COUNTDOWN: 5 “Red Flags” in Writers’ Groups


red candle
Photo by Pixabay on

I can only share what has worked for me and my personal opinions. Please take the following in that spirit. I am aware that one writer’s red flag is another writer’ NBD (‘no big deal’).

5. Lack of group structure and leadership
It doesn’t matter to me who is ‘in charge,’ but someone should be. When it comes to writing groups, I dig benevolent dictatorships.

4. Poor self-management
We’re writers, we want to be heard and seen. But your special snowflake ass is not somehow more worthy of airtime than the ass of any other schlub at the table (me included). For example, if you are meant to have 15 minutes for reading aloud + group discussion, do your best to stay within that. That means you should not bring 20K words to read. FYI, most people can read about 800-1200 words in about 8 minutes, which will leave 7 minutes for group discussion. Use a timer.

3. Trying to get not-writing needs met
Some people need to be right. Other people need to be the one who knows. Some need to claim the moral high ground. All of these things are a pain in the ass in writer’s groups. Try not to bring these needs to your writer’s group. Plenty of other places to be a perfectionistic, know-it-all, self-righteous Drama Llama. Like Starbucks. Go there, get revved up on caffeine, and annoy the people there. Go home and bother your family and friends. Just keep it out of the writers’ group. If we all make an effort to be congenial, professional, and helpful at our writing groups, we’ll enjoy them more.

2. No skill at constructive criticism
If you are negative, snide, or otherwise mean and disrespectful of other writers’ work, you drag the whole group down. This is a good read on how to do critiques properly.

1. Not prepared
Some writing groups distribute paper copies to everyone present so that comments can be written on the pages as the writer reads aloud. If that’s the case, bring enough copies on paper so everyone can read along with you and write their comments. You’ll get deeper feedback and won’t have to rely on your memory of what was said during the discussion.

Other writing groups distribute the work before the meeting and participants read it and prepare their critique before hand. If that’s the case with your group, do your homework!

What about you? Any obvious writing group red flags that you can see?

Outliners and Pantsers and Bears, Oh My!

I’ve blogged before about my writing process and how it fits into the Classical vs. Romantic traditions (TL;DR: it doesn’t).

So what do I do? A little bit of everything, including:

  • Daydream and noodle around with a notebook and pen in a public place, telling myself stories about the people I observe. (I wear ear buds that are not plugged in to anything to prevent creepers from creeping on me; it deters a few)
  • Read good books for inspiration
  • Read terrible books for even more inspiration (if you choose only one thing on this list to try on for size, choose this. I particularly recommend 9 Lovers for Emily Spankhammer  by Kaleesha Williams.  This novel is sometimes called the This is Spinal Tap of bad writing. The comparison is apt. The only thing that could improve a reading sesh of 9 Lovers for Emily Spankhammer is a large glass of Marques de Rojas and ravioli eaten straight out of the can with a plastic spork  while listening to Sia or Lana Del Ray at a volume designed to disturb the neighbours. (No offense to the neighbours, they are probably very nice. On the other hand, fuck ’em. We must all suffer for art.)
  • Write down dreams I’ve had. That’s how writing Blood Rain started. Chapter two was based on a dream I had that I couldn’t stop thinking about.
  • Summarize the ten essential scenes on index cards so that whatever I am writing has beginning, middle, and end. (How does anyone write a book without using index cards?! Impossible!)
  • Get the mojo running and then fly by the seat of my pants, just to see what happens.
  • Attend writing groups and take critical feedback on the chin.
  • Develop character portfolios— I know what they wear, what foods they like, their preferred footwear, what they would find if they underwent past-life regression hypnosis, what TV shows they watch, the genealogy of their horses, and much much more.
  • Be stubborn- I revise the first draft as many times as I have to. No piece of writing is every truly finished, IMO. There is always more to do.
  • Usually I write things in chapter-order, but I give myself permission to break that ‘rule’ as much as I want. I estimate that about eighty-five per cent of Blood Rain was drafted chronologically.

If you write, how do you write? Are you a disciplined Classical outliner or a free-spirited, Romantic ‘pantser’? Or are you a mixture of the two, like me?

Things that will mess up your writing process, Part One

Photo created by Aaron Burden, used under a CC licence.

My high school creative writing teacher gave the class a lecture one time about the two types of writing processes, “classical” and “romantic”.

He advised that writers with a classical process are highly structured, create detailed outlines, and develop their plots and characters fully before they start drafting.

He opined further that writers with a romantic process, write (only) when the spirit moves them. They often draft scenes outside of chronological order. Their characters and plots develop organically, sometimes in directions the writer did not anticipate.

This bit of advice was then (and is now) horseshit.

Every writer I know uses some combination of classical and romantic elements.**

What’s more, having that dichotomy in mind messed up my process. I felt like I was doing it “wrong”, which contributed to long periods of not writing.

From my perspective, any writer’s process can be like a frozen soap bubble- something lovely to look at, but also something that can be easily destroyed by a probing finger or overheated breathing.

**More on this in a future post

COUNTDOWN: Five Reasons I Love Writers’ Manuscript Groups

I’m not much of “a joiner” nor am I a person who loves group activities.  I need a certain amount of “leave-me-alone-to-brood” time.

Nevertheless, I attend two different manuscript groups and I love them. Here’s why . . .

5. No one minds if I attend meetings in my pajamas.

4. Saturday morning cartoons are not what they used to be.

3. Critiques– even unkind ones– are helpful. Hard-to-hear feedback can lead to deeper insight into one’s own work (and save you loads of time when it comes time for the second or third draft).

2. The feedback is immediate.

The number one reason I love writers’ manuscript groups?

1.  Deadlines. Organized structured groups provide deadlines. You know the old saying “if it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would ever get done”?  The person who coined that must have had me in mind. With a deadline, I can move mountains. Without one, I can’t move at all.