Saturday, July 20, 2013

Do Writers Need a Face-to-Face Peer Group?


     Do you sit down each day with endless words pouring through your head and not enough time to write them all? Are ideas and perfect verse bursting to spring from your imagination onto your page - either literal or on screen? If so, then you probably do not need a peer group.  But, if you sit and stare at your keyboard, wondering which way to go with your story, or  - worse yet - how to proceed, then you might benefit from a good face-to-face meeting with other writers. 
    I have been a member of many Internet groups, and a group owner of a few, in my lifetime and prefer a face-to-face group for several reasons I will list shortly but briefly want to explain why Internet groups may be undesirable for some of the gentler souls who want to write.  

    Where there is anonymity there is the potential for rude, obnoxious and hurtful behavior, especially when it’s an open group without good moderation and hundreds of members. If the members list is not readily available for all to see, that seems to give license for some people to act out even more so. And where competition is allowed there is even potential of conniving, catty behavior. 

    It sounds like I am totally against Internet groups. Not at all. I have been members of good ones, and have left many because I was tired of the bickering and drama and several self-appointed know-it-alls who failed to understand that there is (to borrow a phrase) more than one way to skin a cat if you happen to be in a cat-skinning group.  I would NEVER be! Poor kitties.  

    Face-to-Face writing groups are superior to     
Internet groups for some very good reasons. 

    1] YOU GET TO KNOW THE PEOPLE IN THE GROUP. Knowing someone and being face-to-face makes it more unlikely for someone to be bullied or spoken to in a manner that is hurtful to.

    2] YOU WILL IMPROVE YOUR WRITING SKILLS FASTER. Groups that meet on a regular basis will teach more and at a faster rate. You will learn to organize your time better because most groups ask you to bring in a piece of what you are working on (or what you prefer) in order to help you improve.  Constructive criticism is part of every good group.  Your new found friends can offer ideas for improvement, suggest ways to help you improve, and tell when something is working well in your piece, or if a part is not quite sounding right. Often times when a writer knows something is wrong, but can't quite put the finger on it, the group can! And YOU will be able to help others!  We are not all alike, and what I lack another has, and the little bitty skill that I never considered will help another. It's give and take and we build up one another, as our friendships grow.

    3] YOU WILL LEARN HOW TO SPARK NEW IDEAS. As stated, we are different.  An eclectic group of different people - fiction novelist, sci-fi, poetry, magazine article writer, or screenwriter - can still teach one another things. Did it make sense? Did it appear real or was it over the top? Sharing helps everyone, but the best part of sharing is when something in another genre spares an idea in yours. For example, the wording of a poem can flash an image in your mind to sparks a fantastic story idea! Or a scene in your story can offer up an idea for a magazine article.

   4] YOU WILL GAIN CONFIDENCE AND EXPERIENCE.  In most face to face groups you will get current information about writing, publishing, writer conferences, trade groups that are good to join, and possibly even tax deduction information.  Some teach points of using grammar, how to make a scene or create characters, the proper way to write a inquiry letter, where to search for publishers in your genre, the elements of proper tense or point of view, etc. Consider a face-to-face writers group as job training. If they offer writing exercises, even better!  These exercises are designed to stimulate the brain, your imagination, and your speed. You will be able to do things you never thought yourself capable of before!  

    5] YOU WILL GET HONEST FEEDBACK.  Unlike the Internet and reading words in print, if you are observant, you will get an honest response when asking for feedback. Watching their facial expression, body language and listening to their tone of voice can be very telling.  
Having said that let me assure you that a quality group will have some rules set down on how to provide feedback.
This benefit sounds a bit intimidating to some but remember one thing. We can choose to take the advice, or not. It's up to the receiver and often group members differ on what they tell you. I have had some say, I did not care for this because . . . while another member states, I loved it! It worked for me. We are there not to dictate, only to advise. We take the advise we feel most comfortable with in our gut, not theirs.

   6] YOU WILL MAKE NEW FRIENDS.  This is a bonus, because we cannot have too many good and honest people in our lives. Even if you don't eye to eye to everyone, you will find someone similar to you to make friends with! 

   There is much more you can gain from a face-to-face group, but a blog only allows so much sharing before boring you to death. Don't be afraid to try a face-to-face group. After all we arrive for the same thing: to be with like-minded people to share a similar passion!