A Novel Idea

Posts Tagged ‘Virginia Woolf

I’m certain there’s a glamourous image evoked in the minds of potential authors by the term ‘writer’s group’. If I thought about this term even two years ago, my mind would conjure up famous gatherings like The Bloomsbury Group or The Inklings. I would imagine Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes and E. M. Forster dining and debating in a London home. I could see C.S Lewis and J.R.R Tolkein reading aloud and laughing over a pint in an Oxford pub.

Now the term ‘writer’s group’ means something much more humble but far more useful to me.

Today I am a member of three disparate writers’ groups. I write across ages and genres, so each group sees different pieces.

By writing group, I mean a gathering of people who bring their work to each meeting to seek and provide feedback aimed at improving everyone’s writing.

I don’t mean a reading club where you talk about how incredible Toni Morrison is or a drinking session where you moan about writer’s block or how much you hate that your teenager thinks Twilight is good reading.

It takes some brass to open yourself to critique, but every instrument needs polish to shine.

I want to share my thoughts on what constitutes a successful writing group.

1. Common purpose

Writing groups are like relationships – they work best when you both want the same outcome.

Just as the girl who repeatedly stalls in front of jewellery shop displays studded with sparkling engagement rings in the hope that the boyfriend will one day get the hint, some groups are ultimately a waste of time.

Not everyone who writes needs to be published. They may want it, but aren’t prepared to do what it takes to make it happen.

Let me be clear. Any feedback about your writing is helpful. Regardless of whether someone has published One Hundred books or just read that many, their response to your work is of interest. But if your writer’s group is composed of people who are just dabbling, odds are you’re not maximizing the quality of feedback.

2. Regularity and size

At this risk of sounding like an advertisement for Metamucil, do not underestimate the importance of staying regular.

Two of my groups meet monthly, one meets fortnightly. Weekly meetings are possible, but I find fortnightly works best. It is long enough to produce a satisfying chunk of work and incorporate feedback into the editing process. One also has a life beyond writing to juggle…

Inevitably people cannot make every group meeting. That’s where size matters. Like a house of parliament, you need a quorum. If only two other people turn up, it makes it difficult to decide how to treat feedback you don’t vehmently agree or disagree with. If you have four or five opinions on the same piece, you have a better chance of obtaining an objective analysis of your work.

Twelve is a good number for a writing group. It’s manageable if everyone turns up, but half the time you’ll be receiving four to six diverse responses to your work. But like the Apostles, you’ll probably have one Judas.

Which leads me to my final tip.

3. Protect your work

The risk with sharing your work is not so much that someone will plagiarise it (in Australia the form of words is protected by copyright), it is that they will steal your idea and write something better. Or even something average that gets published before yours and sops up the public interest.

This is tricky.

It goes without saying that you should add a copyright note to all your material, whether it’s the first or thirty-seventh draft. I would also caution against giving people electronic or hard copies of your work until it is published. Make sure you collect every copy of your work at each meeting.

Unfortunately you can’t stop someone using your idea. I have heard speakers respond to this by saying your idea probably isn’t as unique as you think it is – there’s nothing new under the sun. That may be true, but it’s not very comforting.

I was at a course recently, with a well-known Australian author (within their field), who confided that a writing friend had published an almost identical book to the one this author had discussed with them just a year earlier. The so called friend had had a nervous breakdown and seemingly had no idea that they had done something wrong.

If you had the money to sue, you could. You might get back your expenses or even a share of royalties. You don’t get your book back though.

Protect your work by sharing it when you are close to finishing the draft cycle (within 3-6 months of your completion date). This makes it harder for someone to pip you at the proverbial post. This has the added benefit of putting some time (and therefore some objectivity) between you and your writing.

Take comfort in the fact that you are a writer, not a one-hit wonder. You will have other novel ideas.

Where to begin? 

Contact your national or regional writer’s centres to find out about active writer’s groups in your area.

Or start your own.

I would love to hear about other writer’s thoughts on writer’s groups. Any catastrophes? Any triumphs?

I’ll leave you with a quote from E.M. Forster:

‘Either life entails courage, or it ceases to be life.’

Time to print out copies for my next meeting…

Write well. Write often.

V.

(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

How could an aspiring author take comfort from the words of someone who drowned themself?

 Cautiously. Gratefully.

I was reminded of Virgina Woolf’s lengthy exposition, A room of one’s own, just the other day in an unexpected moment.

If you’ve only heard of the famous title or even the quote that to write a woman needs money and a room of her own, I urge you to read it in its entirety.

My partner and I live in a modest two bedroom apartment. We’re yet to have children so have the luxury of a shared study. Our two identical desks line one wall, only you wouldn’t realize they were the exact same desk at first glance.

Connor’s desk is clean. You can see the glass desk top. Everything is masculine black or silver.

You can’t see the top of my desk.

It’s hidden beneath a burgundy woven tablecloth that I bartered with a woman in Cappadocia for. You can’t see much of the tablecloth though. It’s covered in earlier versions of the first five chapters of my novel. There’s a scarf that I wore three weeks ago that somehow hasn’t made its way back to my drawers. Roget’s thesaurus hides under a pencil case stuffed with markers in every colour of the rainbow. A pretty trinket that my father gave me for my twentieth birthday is luxuriating behind a pile of books. Really, I’m lucky to fit a mousepad amongst all this.

Unfortunately or fortunately there’s no view from my desk.

I’ll write anywhere quiet. Libraries are great (free heating and no shortage of reference books). Other people’s houses are great (it’s not your washing so there’s no way your going to waste time cleaning instead of writing). Parks are a good summer option.

Noisy funky cafes are for the cool writers (or those who listened to their Sony Discmans way too loud when they were teens and can consequently never be distracted because they are almost deaf).  

Today it’s been grey and dreary. I didn’t even go for a morning walk. I’m not one to complain about the weather (except for last year’s dust-storms which were horrendous). In fact I love the rain. It was just a whole lot easier to write at home today.

On days like this, I do feel as if I have a room of my own.

Back to Woolf. Her phrase has been bouncing around my brain for the last few days. Connor and I were both in the study, doing our separate things. I finished my word count for the day and triumphantly shut down the computer.

You know, we’re doing a good job of sharing this space, but one day, we’re going to get you a room of your own.

I don’t think Connor was paraphrasing Woolf at that moment. It was more a virtual pat on the back. Kind of like the time one mum said to mine (I must have been three or four at the time but I’ve got a great memory for odd moments):

Your daughter is a good sharer, for an only child.

She meant it as a compliment as well.

Adults are like the stereotypical only child. It’s all about me. Let me tell you about myself (my blog is a case in point). Me me me me more about me.

Connor’s comment was an insight into most people’s (and most couple’s) sad inability to share.

I’m not holding us up as some perfect couple who never fight. We’re both stubborn with strong opinions so we’re bound to clash horns on occasion.

One thing we do really well is support each other. We both know what it feels like to draw blood towards a goal. We both know how much better that feels than being denied the opportunity to give something your all in the first place.

This study is important to us both. It’s a shared resource for individual and team goals.

I hope I can continue to share well, even as finishing times get later and patience is tested.

Someday, when I’m a successful published writer, I will have a room of my own. I’ll make sure he has one as well.

Here’s my favourite quote from A room of one’s own.

‘One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.’

Write well. Write often.

V.

(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.