The Dramatic Beginning
I moved to Bristol just after I’d finished the first draft of my first best-seller. Hiding away in a small room with minimal distractions, I’d written a masterpiece. I was the next Robert Rankin, but female. I was the next Kurt Vonnegut, but female. No, actually, I was the first Christie Cluett and I was going to be incredible, or so I thought…
I joined my first writers’ group by answering an ad on Gumtree looking for members. I got a lovely response and after a few messages to ensure I was the right fit for the group, I was invited along to see how it worked. It was a supportive atmosphere with tea, cake and constructive criticism. At the second meeting, I submitted the first chapter of my novel – why wait? This stuff was going to blow their minds – and went along for my critique with butterflies that could have been nervousness or just excitement at the inevitable compliments that would be thrown my way.
The Slump in the Middle
Needless to say, I wasn’t lifted on their shoulders and carried around the room as the new Queen of Literature. There were some nice comments and some useful constructive criticisms, though naturally I focused on the latter. I considered skulking off in a mood, but my slightly more mature side won in the end and I went back. Pat on the back for me.
Over the next couple of months, I received lots of useful comments, encouragement and more criticisms that gradually didn’t cast me into a theatrical swoon of despair that had me throwing my notebooks out the window… eventually. However, just as I was getting used to receiving feedback and actually incorporating it into my work, the group disbanded and, with it, my support group.
The Surprise Ending?
For days, I wandered the streets in the rain calling their names – like at the end of Rocky (metaphorically speaking), and then I dusted off my sweat-pants and decided it was time to run up those steps *Rocky Theme Tune*. Sorry, torturous analogy over.
So anyway as you might have guessed from the title, I decided to set-up my own writers’ group. The help you get from a support network of fellow writers is irreplaceable – your husband telling you that your novel is brilliant isn’t that credible or helpful (bless him) – so it was time to find a new group.
I put an ad in Bristol Gumtree and through the sea of time-wasters and people who think that “Writers’ Group” is a euphemism for “Young, Hot & Horny”- Mel appeared. And soon followed the rest of the people who make up our incredible group as if they heard the Call of the Writer (they didn’t – it was a Gumtree ad, as previously mentioned) and Stokes Croft Writers was born.
P.S Everyone lived happily every after.
The Epilogue (aka the details)
We meet in neutral ground so that everyone is as (un)comfortable as each other. There are a multitude of free spaces where you can meet – village halls, community spaces or a cafe for the price of a drink. We submit beforehand (at least two days before we meet) so that everyone has time to read the story through and comment & critique. Then we sit around and discuss what we liked and thought could be improved, with suggestions for changes, perhaps some brainstorming – all with the proviso that it’s the author’s work and all suggestions can be happily and willfully ignored.
When people usually share their work, they are often in one of two camps, either the “They are going to love this!” or the “They are going to hate this” group. I still mostly stand stupidly in the first group as I never learn, but regardless of whether they liked the story there is always something to say, some comment to make, as we are as much readers as we are writers.
We soon learned that not everyone will like everyone else’s work and that’s not an issue – even in a story you wouldn’t choose to read is something to admire and something that can be improved.
The important concept that our group of writers is built on, without having to discuss it or agree to it, is one of mutual respect. Respect for each others’ work and respect of each others’ sensitive writer souls – but without pulling any punches of course!
In summary – if you’re a writer of anything – novels, short stories, poetical shopping lists – then seriously consider finding a writers’ group, and if you can’t find one – start one. It’ll be the best decision you ever made.
*Sob – I love you guys*