Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Group Grows Up

by Hannah Roveto

What does a writers' group offer to writers who are not just starting out? How is someone who has a full WIP or even experience in the wild world of publishing supposed to use a writers' group?

A friend of mine with two books on shelves recently formed a group with two other published authors and even among the three of them, the questions arose: What do we need from each other? What are the rules and boundaries? One of the writers has a full manuscript and her first need is for a reading and critique, while my friend is in the development stages, turning a script she wrote into a novel. She asked for my thoughts, which was hugely flattering.

I outlined our group's process as established early on, noting that as we evolved, the rules have become somewhat flexible. We meet regularly, not necessarily every two weeks. We don't turn out pages "just because," and still keep the pressure on ourselves to push forward. We do read full manuscripts and here is our process for that:

* Readers follow a piece's progress in chunks. However, as we near the end (Amy or Lynne's brilliant idea) the author holds back the last three or so chapters and rewrites/completes the entire manuscript. The work is delivered as a fresh story with an ending the readers have never seen.

* A complete manuscript is usually the sole work reviewed in a meeting. Pages are delivered in advance, packaged in gray copy center boxes that to us signify excitement and accomplishment. We read and comment on the entire book, from threads to plausibility to line edits.

The value of those comments is in their service to the author, which is more significant than it sounds. As Lynne once wrote, honesty is in the details, but those details can only be processed by the author, something we all recognize fully. The author can feel free to use readers outside the group. And while the author considers any reader's critique as a flag marking something worth review, critique is recognized by the writer -- and the readers -- as opinion. Our role is to point out details that work and don't work, where the strengths are and where challenges might lie. We hope to help make the foundation strong; what the author does with our thoughts is her prerogative. We trust each other enough to know the advice is good, and we take what is needed as a gift, with deep appreciation.

In fact, The Writers Group members have never seen the final manuscripts delivered by our sisters-in-writing to an agent. (A draft once, but no finals.) We have seen only predecessors. What stayed and what went, what was deleted or added by the author -- and in turn, the agent and editor -- is a surprise. Really. And on that note, is everyone ready for a fabulous book being released on the twelfth called Tethered? I'm dying to read it!


Amy MacKinnon said...

Thanks, Hannah. Should I bring my wine glass next Tuesday?

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

I think a bottle of sparking grape might magically appear, yes...! (And Lisa, a sip by you?)


DeAnna Cameron said...

Thank you for sharing your process. I love the idea of withholdiing the final chapters. One major obstacle I've found with writing groups I've been part of over the years is reader fatigue. You know, when you've read the same section of an author's work a few times and then it just seems impossible to offer feedback uncolored by the versions that preceded it? Your method seems like it would be a really good way to maintain a fresher eye when you finally read the whole manuscript.
If I'm ever in a writing group again, I'm definitely going to suggest this. Thanks!

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