Sitting at a keyboard, waiting for the muse who refuses to appear can be a lonely business. And when we writers do get those synapses flying we often become so familiar and attached to our words, we can’t see them objectively. Our words are our darlings, we fall in love with them. They’re like our children, and like our children we can’t see their faults and blunders. We need others to point out their missteps.
That’s where a writers’ group comes in. Like-minded fellows gathering for give-and-take feedback and support, will not only make us feel less alone, but can take our writing to a higher level.
Careful readers that we are, writers can sense if a scene has too much or not enough dialogue, if the characters are developed, if there’s enough detail or too much unnecessary information. And while it’s true that it’s our work, if we find a few members making the same comment about a particular scene, maybe they’re onto something from which we can learn.
I realized I had a problem with character when my group discussed the first chapter of Lily Steps Out. It had to do with Lily’s relationship with her husband, Leon.
“I don’t see him as the take-charge guy you say he is,” one member volunteered. Another agreed. Still another nodded.
“But he is,” I said, defending my work. “He’s retired now. He has no business to run so he wants to run Lily!”
“It’s not on the page,” said a member. “I think you need to show it more,” from another.
Food for thought, and I thought about it, coming up with a flashback at the end of the chapter that showed how Lily and Leon met and how cocky and sure of himself he was even then. That inclusion not only fleshed him out, but also opened a window onto the balance in their relationship that Lily would soon toss on its ear—or better still, Leon’s ear.
Writers of fiction and non-fiction, authors of essays, poetry and plays, my writers’ group meets every week in a local eatery to have a bite and discuss our work.
Out of a core group of six, we rotate leaders, each member heading up the meeting for two months. “Any news?” the leader will ask getting things started, meaning has anyone been published or rejected (alas, there are always more of the latter than the former) or heard about anything writer related that might be of interest to the group.
“Who’s reading?” is the next matter of business.
Not every writer reads every week but those who do, bring double spaced copies of their work for each attendee. As we follow along the text, we jot down comments on dialogue, character, plot, and then have an open discussion. Remarks run the gamut, and though we give our general impressions, we focus on specifics. If we like a bit of dialogue, we say why. If we think it’s unnatural for a character to speak as he or she does, we weigh in on that. The plot is sagging? We suggest ways of shoring it up.
Has anyone ever left in a huff because they didn’t like their critique? Once in a while. Have folks come once or twice and not again? All the time. Writers try us out—we post notices in our local newspapers and libraries—and decide we’re not for them. But we also have writers who remain with us for months, years even, sharpening their skills, sharing the pain and pleasure of the writing life.
Our members’ original plays have been performed at libraries and community centers, their short verse has appeared in The New York Times, and it’s not uncommon for a short story to find its way to a literary journal—does The Alaska Quarterly Review ring a bell? My novel, Lily Steps Out was work-shopped at my writers’ group, the same goes for my short story collection Alterations. I’m convinced my work wouldn’t have found its way into print had it not been for my writers’ group.
A version of this post was originally published on Best Chick Lit.
Blurb: Empty nest, retired husband… after thirty-three years of making beds and cooking dinners, Lily Gold has had it and decides to look for a job. Her husband Leon, however, doesn’t like not having her at his beck and call and puts the kibosh on her chance of opening her own antique store by emptying out their bank account. This is marriage? This is war! Follow Lily as she turns the status quo into quid pro and gives her husband a run for his money.
Rita Plush lives and writes in Queens, New York. Her writing practice includes both fiction and nonfiction. She is the author of Lily Steps Out (Penumbra Publishing 2012), and the short story collection, Alterations (Penumbra 2013).
During her forty-year career as an interior designer, Rita was the Coordinator of the Interior Design Decorating Program in Continuing Ed. at Queensborough Community College. There, she implemented and taught several classes in the program and remains on the faculty. As a speaker, Rita has presented at libraries and synagogues, at Hofstra University and CW Post Hutton House, on topics ranging from writing and publishing, the decorative arts, interior design and “Coco Chanel ~ The Woman–The Legend”
She is the facilitator of the Self-Published Authors’ Roundtable that meets the first Tuesday of each month at the Manhasset Library, Manhasset, L.I.
Links for Lily Steps Out
Links for Alterations: http://www.amazon.com/Alterations-Rita-Plush/dp/1938758153/ref=tmm_pap_title_0
To learn more about Rita visit her website. http://www.ritaplush.com