A dozen things I’ve learned from my writers group

Instead of “Pizza and a Movie” (we’re skipping it, today), this post is about another one of my (sometime) Friday activities. For several years, I’ve participated in a writers’ critique group (called the Writers Circle) connected with the Atlanta Writers Group.

It’s facilitated by my friend Gelia Dolcimascolo and meets twice a month at Georgia Perimeter College, now known as Georgia State University Perimeter College (I think). On alternate Fridays, some members meet at area businesses that welcome us, like coffee shops, bakeries and restaurants.

This is a multi-genre group–kind of appropriate for me, as a multi-genre author (something I didn’t plan to be, but there it is). Members are poets, short story and flash fiction writers, nonfiction writers, screenplay writers, and novelists. Genres include fantasy, science fiction, thrillers, literary fiction, women’s fiction, children’s and middle grade, young adult, and others. We read several pages of our work in progress (WIP) aloud to the group, and then discuss, sharing comments and reactions. The idea is to help each other improve, and over the years, I certainly have.

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Members at a meeting discussing someone’s work (guess which one is me)

Here are 12 things I have learned (just a partial list, undoubtedly):

  1. How to construct a story arc, and where elements like plot twists belong (thank you, screenplay writers!)
  2. How to tighten my writing (wordy = bad)
  3. How to write believable (and good) dialogue, and that if you don’t need a tag (“he said”), remove it
  4. What to do when I am stuck (write something – anything!)
  5. How to take suggestions and criticism, and use it to improve my story (thick skin = good)
  6. How to dig deep when writing about my own emotions (see ALL THE ABOVE: My son’s battle with brain cancer)
  7. That others can see the problems and issues in my writing (everything from typos to story and character inconsistencies) when I can’t
  8. What genre I am writing in, in a particular work (sounds weird, I know, but when I was working on my novel UNDERWATER–originally titled THE PROJECT–and wondered aloud, “What the heck kind of story is this?”, another member immediately responded, “Suspense, of course!”)
  9. That I can learn something from writers of other genres, even if writing in that genre is not something I could ever do
  10. To take out anything that doesn’t move the story forward, and write only what does (“if you don’t need it, take it out”)
  11. That’s it’s okay to write what you know, and use elements from your own experiences in your work
  12. How to “show, don’t tell” (paraphrasing Mark Twain: “Don’t tell me that the fat lady sings–bring her out, and let her sing!”)

Sometimes, in the midst of all this learning and discussing, things get animated. So, when she needs to, facilitator Gelia rings a bell, to get things back on track (kind of like in the servants’ area downstairs, in Downton Abbey). Recently, she added a plaque next to the bell, in the center of our table:

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Are you part of a writers’ critique group, and if so, what have you learned and how have you benefited?

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