I heart my novel writers’ group

One critiquer's feedback

Yesterday morning, 8am. My eyes sprung open, and even though it was Saturday, I bounced out of bed. Why? Because I wanted to re-read the excerpt from my novel-in-progress Tangled, due to be critiqued by my novel writers’ group that afternoon.

Seeing as yesterday’s meeting is still fresh in my mind, I thought it was the perfect time to tell you about our group (aptly titled A Novel Idea) and how we operate.

Our first meeting was in March 2007, and over the four years we’ve been running, our membership has changed quite a bit but the purpose of the group has remained the same. And what is that purpose, you ask?Β  Hold your horses, I’m getting there! Our purpose is to discuss work-in-progress issues, share discoveries and problems with like-minded individuals, and be motivated to keep persisting with our manuscripts.

Every person in the group is actively writing a novel, right now. We’re all at different stages – some are slogging away with the first draft of their first book, some are close to completion, others have several books on their bookshelf with their name on it (like Ian Wynne, last week’s HOT SEAT victim).

About two weeks before our monthly meeting, one member (me this month) emails a segment (approx 5K) of their work to the group. Group members read the segment and prepare feedback, which is given one by one at the meeting, followed by an open discussion about the segment. This approach has positives and negatives. It’s surprising how much you can tell about a person’s writing strengths and pitfalls from just 5K words, and you can provide the writer feedback on this. You can also provide them with feedback about how the characters are portrayed within the segment and whether the plot seems plausible, which can be very useful.

The drawbacks lie with the size of the excerpt – depending on where it comes from within the overall plot, it can be difficult to understand the context, which impinges on our ability to give holistic feedback. However, this approach is the best we’ve come up with to meet our time constraints – the majority of us (including me) have other significant commitments (like full-time jobs) so can’t devote much time to the group outside of our meetings.

Drawbacks aside, I adore our monthly meetings. I believe the critiquing sessions have helped many group members (including me) improve their writing. One of my favourite things about the meeting is simply being with like-minded souls – people who are as passionate about writing as me, and who enjoy talking about nothing but writing for hours on end.

We support each other through our writing journeys, cheering someone on when they provide a great excerpt, helping them improve excerpts that aren’t so great, and bemoaning the industry with them when they don’t hear back from a publisher for months on end.

How about you?

Are you part of a writers’ group? Is it similar to A Novel Idea or completely different? How do you structure your meetings? If you’ve blogged about your writers’ group, please link to your post in the comments. I’d love to hear about how other groups are run and what you get out of them.


You may recall that last week, I set myself a deadline of 5 September for micro-editing the first third (51K) of Tangled, which equated to editing 10K a week. I’m pleased to report I managed to edit 13K in the past week, and reduce the chapters in question by an average 22%. Very happy with that! (Being stuck at home with a tummy bug for two-and-a-half days helped with finding the time.)

And on that delightful note, I shall sign off. Happy writing! πŸ™‚



Filed under Writing

23 responses to “I heart my novel writers’ group

  1. I also heart my writers group πŸ™‚ We have a slightly different approach. There are 5 of us, and the idea is that we meet once a month (doesn’t always happen) and each send in 1-2 chapters (depending on length) per meeting (3 of us are pretty regular, 1 sporadic, and 1 a great critiquer (I guess that’s not a word… critiquist?) who went about 1 1/2 years without submitting anything for us to read but we hope that’s changing now :)) So we’re all working our way chronologically through our novels-in-progress. We all read each others work, make notes, and then meet to discuss. Our meetings run LONG – a minimum of 2 hours, usually closer to 3 and more than once it’s been 5. We meet on Friday evenings, though, (hence our name, the Friday Fiction Folks) so at least no one has to go to work the next day πŸ™‚

    The pro of our approach is that we all read every word, in order, of each other’s work, so we don’t have that problem you mentioned of not being sure of context etc. The con is that it takes us forever to get through anyone’s novel. We’ve been meeting for I think 3 years now and we will just this month (hopefully) get to the last chapter of my novel. We are also getting within a chapter or two of the end of 2 other people’s novels, so I guess the progress is pretty even. What I most wanted from the group was a sense of how the novel worked as a whole – the whole arc – and it’s taking me a long time to get that (though I’m hoping I will now that my group will finish reading it this month.)

    But, like you, I just love getting together with like-minded writers, and we do all the same things you do – discussing the industry etc. – and it’s just really fun! (Ouch! – Sorry that was so long-winded!)

    • Hahaha, don’t worry. I love long comments. Your approach sounds like a good one. Some people within my group take the same approach in pairs, but as there’s about 8 people in my group, it would be too much to read 2-3K from each person every month.

      I love the name of your group – Friday Fiction Folks. That’s awesome. And it’s great that you can just let the meetings go for as long as they need to. We meet in a community meeting room in a local library, so we have to be a bit more strict on our time, but we almost always go for coffee afterwards. And that’s where some of the best chats take place! πŸ™‚

  2. T.F.Walsh

    Cool group – one of my writing partners attends a similar group in the US – alas I have not found one near me, so my critique group is online and we use a forum where we share our stories and everyone reviews several chps per week – so each week you get feedback which is great for moving quickly:)

  3. Your unbridled enthusiasm is contagious! I also ‘heart’ my writing group. I can’t imagine where my novel-in-progress would be without impartial feedback. Oh wait, yes I can!

    As requested, here the link to my site (www.deborahserravalle.com) and a recent post which discusses the critiquing process… http://deborahserravalle.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/thick-skin-the-golden-rule-and-making-like-a-turtle-top-tips-on-how-to-workshop-with-etiquette/

    • Thanks, Deborah! I know exactly what you mean about what your novel-in-progress would be like without impartial feedback. Mine would be the same – I shudder to think! πŸ™‚

  4. Your writing group sounds wonderful. I don’t belong to one at the moment as there’s nothing near me and I’m not brave enough to try and start one!

  5. Vicki Tremper

    I love my writing group, too! We meet once a month and everyone who has something to share brings one chapter. The sharer reads the excerpt aloud and then everyone takes about 10-15 minutes to write down comments on the printed excerpt provided by the sharer. All 4 of us write for children, but we’re in different places and writing different things. One of us has several non-fiction books published. One of us has an agent and is on submission. Two of us keep writing and writing and querying and querying and hoping.

    Most of all, I love having people to talk to about every aspect of the process, people who get it.

    • Oooh, that sounds like an interesting idea. Do you find you get as much from the piece as you would if you’d read it yourself? Or maybe you even get more? It’s nice to have people at a variety of stages in the group – means you can learn from each other’s experiences. Thanks for dropping by, Vicki. πŸ™‚

  6. Nice work with the editing Cally! Hope you’re feeling much better too.

  7. I love the ‘hot seat’ idea! I’ll have to propose it to my writing group, whom I adore too.


  8. I’ve never been able to find a good writing group, unfortunately. I’d love to be in one. Tolkein and Lewis always had a writers’ group orbiting around them, and I’ve had fantasies about being in a group like that since high school.

  9. Oops… forgot to click the notification box, so just ignore this part.

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