As an author, writing coach, and speaker, I have discovered that writing groups are one of the best ways to learn the craft of fiction.
Writing groups give solitary authors a chance to come out of their creative caves and get some feedback on their work.
For years I’ve had the pleasure of working with other writers. Mostly, this has been in writing groups. When I lived in Evanston, I participated in a largish group, The Glencoe Writers. We hired teachers from the Art Institute, Washington University, Purdue, and the University of Illinois to read and critique two manuscripts per week.
For a dozen years I was also a member of Fred Shafer’s novel and short story workshops. Fred, formerly an editor for the literary magazine TriQuarterly, met weekly with the short story writers and monthly with the novelists. Fred taught for an hour or so, and the other two hours were devoted to close study of student manuscripts.
One of the unique aspects of these workshops was the opportunity to learn from living writers. Every year Fred chose a writer for us to study. We then read all of that writer’s works, from the very beginning to the most recent. During the year, Fred extracted craft lessons from that writer’s books. He compared our writing to the work of the famous writer. The comparisons were not always favorable. In fact, almost never. But, gradually, we learned.
Ten years ago I moved to Phoenix. The Valley of the Sun has its own, vibrant writing communities, but we Phoenicians live miles apart. Meetup.com is a terrific place to quickly find writers, if you’re of a mind to do so.
Because I liked the encouragement and focus a group provided, I formed one. Here’s an article about a group I began.
I’ve been in other groups over the years, most recently as a member of a Stanford program. Nowadays, the fellow members of a group are called “beta readers.” They’ll tell you what’s working and where they stumbled. Without feedback, a writer simply cannot self-correct for inconsistencies. By reading drafts of works-in-progress, we learn.
One of the things I absolutely love about writing is there is no end to the learning curve. I am an inveterate student and always eager to pick up a suggestion that might make it easier to write or revise my stories.
Lately, I’ve realized that I’m in a good position to share some of the knowledge I’ve accumulated over many years. I could and have taught as an adjunct, and I’ve always been astonished at the pathetically low pay. Rather than go that route, I’ve been taking a course on how to create dynamic, online courses.
The ringleader of this course is the amazing Danny Iny. Danny and his team are coaching me through the basics of setting up workshops in an online environment. He sent me a pile of books to read. Not fiction. No. These are book about how people learn.
They’re eye-opening. I’ve been working through them, one by one, trying to absorb the lessons and think about the best way to teach fiction’s key concepts.
Danny’s approach is to have us do a test-run with a small, pilot group. I’ll announce this in my newsletter when I’m ready to roll it out.
I hope you’ll join me in this new venture. My primary goal is to help you write the best book you can write.