With a little Help from my Friends – Reasons to join a Writers’ Group

When I first announced that I wanted to attend a writing group – as a participant not a facilitator – someone looked me blankly in the eye and asked ‘Why?’ There I was, the author of two novels, a long-serving and published freelance journalist, a writing coach, a writing group facilitator …?

But, since that question was asked, it hasn’t taken me long to think of six reasons why I should. A little more time and I could probably think of more.

So – here we go:

  1. As a working writer, you need beta readers. These informed non-professional ‘readers’ can tell in a flash what works and what doesn’t in a chunk of your work in progress (WIP).
  2. Reading aloud shows you the flaws in your own piece. When you run out of breath, for example, you know your sentence is too long.
  3. During tea-break, you have the stimulus of chatting to like-minded folk over a custard cream. Introverted writers can be lonely people. A writers’ group connects you to the human race.
  4. The writers’ group can set a standard, set the bar. You may be way above it but ‘Oh, how comforting!’ You may fall well below – in which case, try harder.
  5. The writers’ group – with their friends and family – make up a possible market. If you entertain them, they may remember your book when doing their Christmas shopping.
  6. A writers’ group is a pool of distilled wisdom and knowledge. One off-piste discussion at a writers’ group I attended recently embraced the funeral customs of Europe and how they differed. Inspiration for another piece of writing!

So, where do you find these wonderful groups of people? Local libraries, colleges and universities are sure to welcome you to their Continuing Education Creative Writing groups. Or, in the UK, contact the National Association of Writers’ Groups to find a group near you. In the rest of the English-speaking world, there are similar organisations. Personally, I belong to a U3A (University of the Third Age) group. This is an international organisation(see WorldU3A) and I wouldn’t be without them!

The secret pleasures of Research

You may write contemporary fiction. You may write historical adventure. You may even write romance – in any of its forms. What all of these options have in common is – research! You cannot contain all you need to know in your brain so – whether internet, library, bookshop, friend’s bookcases – you have to go somewhere to find out what you need to know.

In my case, one area of particular interest to me is 18th Century France and Scotland. So – with this in mind – I am preparing a list of the books I consulted while writing ‘The Wolf of Dalriada’ and which I will post on this website in due course.

However, here are a few pointers for your own research. Go-to sources include:

  • visiting locations
  • libraries for goverment reports and documents
  • contemporary newspaper archives
  • diaries
  • maps
  • fashion plates
  • recipes
  • laws
  • medical papers and practices
  • essays on contemporary social conditons such as prison
  • biographies and memoirs

But make notes as you go. it’ll save you an afternoon searching for that one particular fact.

And, when you have imbued yourself with the period and you begin to write your story, remember to stick to the plot. You may find all sorts of facts fascinating but, if they care about anything at all, your reader will quite simply want to know what is going to happen to your characters. That is not denigrating the ‘setting’ – time and place. It is simply controlling these story elements in a role subservient to the story.  You are after all telling a story. Not educating the reader!

Holiday reading for a novelist?

Holiday reading for a novelist? Well, novels of course but not necessarily or exclusively. At the moment, I am reading about the best extant pieces of an eighteenth century French silversmith and I have learned that ‘masterpiece’ was the piece that an apprentice made to demonstrate his readiness to assume the title ‘master’. I always thought a masterpiece was the best piece of work in a craftsman’s whole output. Refinements to knowledge like this are always useful. Another example! Yesterday, I learned that dairy bulls are more aggressive than beef bulls because, when they are brought up on the bottle, they think they are human. And, when their physical attributes prompt them, they regard humans – not other bulls – as the creatures they need to dominate. I don’t know what I shall do with these tidbits of information, gleaned in a deck chair. But I shall certainly do something.