I finished writing Glass Houses about a year ago. After receiving rejections from the agent of my dreams and a publisher that seemed perfect for my book, I knew I needed help. Several friends suggested I check out local groups for writers.
A Google search turned up a group right here in Athens. I sent the convener an email message and the following weekend, attended my first meeting. Since then, I’ve missed only one of our biweekly meetings. Every other Saturday night, I spend two to four hours talking shop with the other writers in the group.
Here’s how it works. Members submit up to 5000 words of a work in progress. The next day, the convener sends these submissions to everyone who RSVPs that they’ll be at the meeting. We have about ten days to read and critique each submission. When we meet, we focus on one submission at a time and go around the table. Each person offers their comments and suggestions until we’ve talked about every submission.
Each member of our group possesses different talents and skills. Some focus more on the structure of the story, some on more technical aspects of the craft, and others on grammar and syntax. The discussions tend to focus on larger issues with the story. Disagreements are common, and more often than not, congenial.
I didn’t put Glass Houses through the group. The final first draft was 110,000 words. I didn’t have the patience to take it through 5,000 words at a time. Just hearing what the other writers had to say about the submissions we critiqued was interesting and educational. So I kept coming.
In those early days, my comments focused almost entirely on grammar and syntax. But as I heard what others had to say about the submissions I’d read, I learned how to offer feedback about other aspects of the writing. Eventually I learned enough that I wanted to try my hand at writing a novel.
I took Addicted through the writer’s group as I wrote it. The group critiqued the first 5,000 words three times before I got it right. From start to finish, the awesome feedback they provided helped me to write a novel that is a hundred times better than what it would have been without their constructive comments.
There’s something very intimate about the critiquing process. Inviting criticism is like opening up your chest and laying your heart on the table. Positive feedback is nice, but not all that helpful. Constructive criticism is much more valuable. The entire process requires a tremendous amount of trust. The writers have to trust that those who offer comments truly want to help them improve. The people offering comments need to trust that the recipient is open to suggestion and really wants to improve his or her writing. It’s a two-way street.
Writers who can’t handle the criticism don’t last long. One round of comments from us about their work is enough to keep them from coming back. But some–a few–keep coming back for more.
In the past year, the writers who keep coming back have become near and dear to me. Having bared my soul to them through my writing and vice versa, they are much more than friends. They are my writing family. I love each and every one of them with all my heart.
And for once, I can’t think of a way to end this with…
My Glass House