I’m getting a piece ready for my writing group. The group doesn’t meet until next week, but I want to email the piece to the instructor so she can distribute it to the group…the idea being that people will print it out, read it over the weekend and make wise, insightful and helpful comments. Of course, that’s just silly. No one will print it out. The comments I’ll get will be formed at the time of reading. In the group I attend, someone other than the writer reads the piece aloud, then commenting commences.
I suppose that’s not entirely bad. Readers have gut reactions to books all the time. I’ve dumped books because of gut reactions to the first line or paragraph. But are gut reactions really what I should look for from a writing group?
But it’s not just gut reactions that you’ll get at a writer’s group. You’ll get people commenting just to complain or to transition to a personal story. Those are awesome. Hey, I don’t mind “this character reminded me of a guy I knew in college.” That’s actually good feedback, but a 5 minute reminiscence of your dog really doesn’t help.
Then there are the people who get REALLY nit-picky. I expect comments. I expect people to not like what I’ve written. I guess I just wasn’t expecting someone to tell me that I should break up my five-page, double-spaced piece into two different chapters because, though exciting, it was running a tad long.
Ideally, I’d love to read every piece twice: once straight through and the second time to write comments. All prior to group, of course. But when your group doesn’t bother to read ahead or write comments on the paper you print for them, good intentions tend to fall by the wayside pretty quickly.
When another group member actually does give us something to read ahead of time, I get excited. I’m a geek like that. But I probably do a poor job of showing my appreciation through my comments. I’d like to think that I give the deep, insightful comments that I want. Instead, I’m pretty sure what I end up giving is illegible babble.
I tend to write a lot. I’ll debate myself in the margins, trying to see both sides (why I don’t like something and why I’m wrong about not liking it). And the more I go on, the worse my handwriting gets…not that it’s great to begin with.
Several times, my comments have contradicted themselves or I’ve had to correct my old comments with new ones, explaining that the next page really answers all my questions, if only I’d had the patience to get there before writing. So, perhaps, it’s better that no one can read my comments. Maybe they’ll assume that I AM writing wise advice.
I know this sounds like I don’t like my writer’s group, but that’s not the case. There are months when I wonder why I go, others when I’m glad for so many differing opinions on a character, turn of phrase or scene. And sometimes that’s enough. That and having a friend on the side who will read with a critical and intelligent eye.