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Johne

Editing Group vs. Writing Group

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After writing about how to behave in a writer's group workshopping the work of others and how to act when your own work is critiqued, I now turn to a related topic, why writer's groups aren't actually a great idea, and why an editor's group is actually the better alternative for writers.

Shawn Coyne once made an off-the-cuff remark that Writer's Groups were no good because you have other amateurs telling you what's wrong with your work and can't tell you when you're going down the wrong path with your story. He's not wrong.

Quote

 

What else can they do? They’ve all come here ostensibly to help their fellow writers, but really they all just want feedback–preferably positive–on their own work. They can’t help you write better; they can only express opinions.

As Neil Gaiman says, “Remember: When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

Shawn Coyne has argued that there is no value in writing groups or critique groups. They’re just the blind leading the blind.

So why bother?
 

Writing is a lonely occupation.

Writing is solitary. Our work involves sitting alone at a desk in front of a page or a screen weaving tales entirely in our mind. Sure, we have to get out and live if we want ideas to bring to our stories. But if we want to be successful, we still have to dedicate a lot of our time to staring at the page, willing words to come.

And the more we stare at the words that have sprouted from the depths of our subconscious, the less clearly we can see them.  Our scenes and characters are so distinct in our own minds that we can fail to notice what we’ve left off the page. They’re so dear to us that we’re blind to the need to make cuts.  

We need feedback. Fresh eyes. We need encouragement. We need to feel like we aren’t so alone in our thoughts. So we join a writing group. What could be better than connecting with other writers who are also struggling?

While a writing group might help with minor, polishing-type problems, if the group doesn’t understand story structure, they can’t help you turn an early draft into a manuscript ready for submission. How could polishing the prose of a story that doesn’t work possibly help you as a writer?

 


I joined an Editor's Group with other Story Grid authors and it's a little different - we don't crit the normal stuff but rather look at how stories are constructed under-the-hood, whether they comply with basic Story Grid principles, that what we're working on is in the right genre and so forth. I love my group. We have just three people and we allot thirty minutes for each person's submission. I've been sending a full chapter from my WIP. They help me unpack whether my story is missing a key component or is going down an errant rabbit trail because of genre considerations.
https://storygrid.com/writing-groups/

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5 hours ago, Johne said:

Writing is solitary. Our work involves sitting alone at a desk in front of a page or a screen weaving tales entirely in our mind.

 

Yes, Yes. That's me.

5 hours ago, Johne said:

 Our scenes and characters are so distinct in our own minds that we can fail to notice what we’ve left off the page. They’re so dear to us that we’re blind to the need to make cuts.  

 

Yes me, unfortunately.

5 hours ago, Johne said:

if the group doesn’t understand story structure, they can’t help you turn an early draft into a manuscript ready for submission.

 

Yes, that can and does happen.

5 hours ago, Johne said:

They help me unpack whether my story is missing a key component or is going down an errant rabbit trail because of genre considerations.

 

Sounds good to me.  Although I would suggest that a good reviewer  would do this - as some of our C&F section suggest.

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17 hours ago, Johne said:

Shawn Coyne once made an off-the-cuff remark that Writer's Groups were no good because you have other amateurs telling you what's wrong with your work and can't tell you when you're going down the wrong path with your story. He's not wrong.

 

Reading is a solitary experience. Unless you're part of a reading group (which most aren't), you don't have other people sitting with you constantly sharing their feelings about what's being read. I wonder how many times writers privately change their critique opinion because they didn't want to challenge, or are swayed by the "group think" of their writer's group.

 

This is why Beta-readers are such an important part part of my writing/editing process. It's going directly to a reader for their input, because duh, they are the actual customer. They get a chance to read something with no outside influences, and can share their critique without being affected by group think. You know, like most people do when they read something? 

 

I think writers can sometimes get so focused on refining their story with other writers, they can lose focus on who their customers really are.       

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Well put.

On the one hand I want to refine my work but realise part of that process is having someone it in isolation.ie a beta reader.

Yikes🤔

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Also, just so I'm clear. I don't think writing groups are a waste of time. They can be a great resource for advice on writing techniques, tips, encouragement, accountability, etc. I just don't like to get into the weeds of critiquing anyone's work. That's when writers have a tough time holding back their own bias toward ideas, plots, and writing style. 

Edited by Accord64
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1 hour ago, Accord64 said:

Also, just so I'm clear. I don't think writing groups are a waste of time. They can be a great resource for advice on writing techniques, tips, encouragement, accountability, etc. I just don't like to get into the weeds of critiquing anyone's work. That's when writers have a tough time holding back their own bias toward ideas, plots, and writing style. 

 

Agreed. I'm in both kinds of groups, and they are on polar opposite sides of the skill spectrum. The writer's group I'm in is for neophyte writers and we don't crit - it's pretty much a support and vision-casting group to help brand new writers to get their feet on the ground. We meet monthly and it's pretty fun. A guy asked me what I got out of it. I said I'd gone initially to see what I could get out of a local writer's group, but kept going back for what I could give.

The other group is the editor's group I mentioned earlier, a Story Grid-specific group where we are all working at a very high level, and are working on novels we intend to sell. That one meets every other week, which is perfect for my schedule.

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I count this site as a writer's group. Some of us are neophytes being helped by those who have the skills. And I certainly do appreciate what I learn here.

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