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4.16.2008

Writers' Groups and Onset Vampyrism

I was running on the treadmill at the gym today and I looked over in the mirror and couldn't see my reflection! The last few miles were a little troubling, but I finished up strong.

It turns out they cleaned beneath the machines and moved them about eight inches. My customary tready had been shifted to line up with the seam where the mirrors came together. The mirrors don't reflect an image in that position.

The weird thing is that almost immediately I found myself thirsting for a bottle of O-. My plain old water just didn't seem that great. Alas, don't fret; after I saw my reflection when I finished the workout I was content with plain 'ol H2O again (ah, the powers of suggestion...).

When I lived in Portland I attended an infrequent writers' group. I enjoyed listening to some of the stories. Others I didn't. I enjoyed some of the people I met and valued their opinions. Others I didn't. I know lots of folks believe that these groups are an excellent way to network, and for some they probably are. I never placed any stories through the folks I met there, though. And I rarely found the editorial comments were valuable to my works in progress.

What I did see was jealousy and a tendency for writers to form cliques. It seemed that folks grouped up, formed alliances and then systematically trashed the works of others, regardless of the quality of the writing or the content. I ultimately gave it up because it wasn't a productive way to spend an evening, and evenings are few and far between around these parts.

I think it's important to share your work and to be receptive to criticism. I send work to Bernadette while I'm drafting. My wife reads some of my short stories. I send some to a few friends in Portland and to a pair of colleagues here at the college. I even occasionally post a short story in the private message board of my fantasy basketball league--they're all friends I made at Linfield. And I'm always thankful for a word or two on the improvement.

But in terms of the advice that every beginning writer needs a writing group? I don't agree with it. I think it can be helpful for some, but it's not a requirement. I'd read a lot. I mean...read a lot. That's a great way to spend time with other voices. Submit your work actively and aggressively and listen to the reactions of the editors. Attend conferences for the networking, but let the reading and writing that you do be your critique group.

And in terms of reading the work of others, I get a half-dozen random calls from folks hoping I'll line-edit their 200,000 word novels for free because I teach writing at a local college. My reaction is always a cordial 'no', but I can see exactly what author Jeff Cohen is talking about in his fine post here.

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