Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Fool's Gold from Real

by Hannah Roveto

I acquired most of my vast knowledge of fool's gold from fiction, I think from that long-ago series on twins from different eras. Whoever wrote the slim volume on the twins during the California Gold Rush had to do some research, yes? Fool's gold shined like the real thing, but it sparkled almost too bright, and once you'd seen the real thing, you'd be able to tell the two apart forever. What more did I ever need to know?

When putting together or joining a writers' group, it is important to learn the difference between fool's gold and real gold, as well. This group did a panel at Grub Street's Muse and the Marketplace this past weekend, and as one lovely man asked, can anyone know whether a group will work from the start?

Maybe not 100%, I grant you, but there are qualities to real gold you will recognize early. A group may shine bright, talk the talk, have grand plans; that's not what's important. Many groups screen potential members based on writing samples, which certainly is helpful. The truest test? Look for a glint of real determination.

* Rigid rules will narrow the field, your insistence on real time to be spent on a daily or weekly basis doing the writing, and on a bi-weekly or monthly basis to come together.

* Attitude will make a difference: positive, generous, cooperative, supportive. A confident writer knows that learning craft is something anyone can do, alone or in a group, but if you do have a group, you need to give and take, to be kind and honest. Strong, well-written stories get published, and if you all produce, you can each be a success. This is not one-on-one rivalry.

* Finally, a word on that glint itself. During different phases of my life, I "wrote some," I "liked to write," I "gave writing a shot and wrote when I could," and I "was getting more serious about writing." By the time I contacted the woman responsible for the flyer on the library bulletin board, I wanted a writers group because it was time to take my fiction seriously. It was time to write a full novel, a good novel, start to finish and refine it and get it published and be good enough to do it again. And again. Nothing against the old me, but you wouldn't have wanted her in your group. Perhaps I would have become a determined writer sooner, if I had been with other determined writers who encouraged me, broke down whatever fears and barriers kept me back, but who knows? In time, the motivation came from inside, real and urgent.

Once you have met a group of writers who might be the real thing, give it a go and give it some time. A few weeks, a few months. Make it clear you're operating on a trial basis and you're holding the bar high. There should be at least neutral chemistry to start, and you should sense the good chemistry developing with each passing meeting.

There you have it. How to tell fool's gold from real gold. Good luck.


Lisa said...

What perfect timing! A brand new critique group that I was invited to join will meet to critique work for the first time on Saturday. I only know one member, so these people are all new to me. These are great recommendations -- I'll know more in time. Thanks :)

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Let us know how it goes! A Muse session this weekend was entitled "Lisa Scottoline Tells You Everything She Knows," which she did in sweeping, generous fashion. She revved up the group in many ways, and her bottom line was that if you are determined, you will make it. Wishing you a determined, positive and dedicated group as well!


Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity: What was the written 'actually' on the library bulletin board?

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

There used to be a Duxbury Writers Group, which was promoting an author event. I called and said I couldn't attend the presentation, but was looking for a group. I was asked to send pages; they were looking for members. Amy was in that group, and Lisa joined later; the whole thing would dissolve and rise and dissolve and didn't meet regularly. At a casual lunch to see whether it was worth plugging along, this lovely woman, Lynne, joined us in the hope someone wanted to keep going. Amy was sort of willing, only if people would follow stringent rules; only three hands went up, and you know the rest!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reply. The rest is indeed history and a great one.

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