By Judith Yates Borger
Before I began writing mysteries I asked my experienced mystery-writer friends for advice. The best piece of advice I got was "Be careful whose opinion you ask."
Today, seven years later, I couldn't agree more. It's the most important tool a writer has.
So, how can a writer choose her writers group? I suggest that she think through what kind of feedback she needs. For example, I'm in two writers groups each chosen for different reasons. They both meet on Tuesdays, one weekly in the morning, the other monthly in the evening.
There are four of us in the weekly morning writers group, each of us with different strengths. One member is a picky, picky copy editor, who catches my many mistakes. If you've read my posts you know I need her. Another member uses words like a fine violinist. She feels the prose rather than reads it. She tells me when the emphasis is wrong or the pacing is off. The third member can look at the sweep of my work and tell me when it needs a different direction or a certain character needs better development. The three of them are wonderful writers but they're not mystery writers.
The monthly evening group is comprised of three mystery writers. If they find a typo or grammatical error they circle it and move on. There's no discussion of word choice, timing or character. We three spend most of our time talking about plots. Who gets killed? When? Where? What's the protagonist's motivation? What's the best device that will put the murderer in the right place at the right time to do the deed? Is a particular plot point plausible?
The two groups also have different rules. The weekly group requires that everyone bring at least one three-sentence paragraph, but no more than eight double-spaced pages. The idea is that no matter how complicated our lives are we can all write at least one paragraph. The discipline keeps us moving ahead. We meet at a coffee shop, with free easy parking, at 11:30 a.m. sharp. If someone is late the others go on without her. The tardy one's work is considered last so if we run out of time before the 1:30 p.m. adjournment that person's work gets the least attention.
As you might expect, the monthly mystery writers group is much more relaxed. We meet in each other's homes, 7 ish and wrap up about 8:30 p.m. Snacks are served. There are no requirements on what we submit to the group and it's ok to show up with nothing. The discussion meanders as we brainstorm.
I've been in writers groups that fell apart. There were many reasons, as I recall. In one people routinely showed up late and unprepared. In another one member monopolized the discussion mostly trying to prop up her own ego. She didn't know what she was talking about. In another absenteeism for no good reason was a common theme.
Is it unusual to be in two writers groups? I don't know. Probably. But being in two makes me feel twice as accountable in my work.
What's your experience? Are you even in one? How many members do you have? How often, and where, do you meet? What is the most important rule of characteristic of your group?
Let us know, please.