I admit it: I work best when someone holds me accountable.
Thankfully, I belong to two local writing groups. Both are meeting this week, but today I want to write about the one I’ve belonged to longest. Liz Prato envisioned this group sometime in 2008. We read partial or whole novels over a set number of weeks, and then we come together for several hours to discuss, dissect, suggest and question the work in a very specific, detailed way.
It’s quite a bit different from other groups I’ve belonged to because we focus on huge chunks of text instead of a few pages of language.
Yes, dare I say it, we talk a whole lot about plot.
And yes, I recommend this kind of group to anyone working on a long form piece. The feedback is invaluable. Each time I’ve submitted a manuscript, I have left our meeting with a wealth of notes and specific direction for revising.
Here’s a good example. I took a turn last May and used the feedback to accomplish my last major revision of Body Copy, a book that’s taken 12 drafts and six years. Whew. The group was unanimous in saying that my main character Megan shouldn’t be chasing after her childhood friend Chloe. For one thing, Chloe was really mean to her. For another, Megan was too weepy and desperate about this particular relationship when she was smart and sassy in other parts of her life. When my group discussed this bump, and the feeling was unanimous, I went home, thought for a while, and eventually figured out how to rework Chloe’s relationship with Megan. It’s so much better this way!
In particular, I wrote a new version of chapter two, where Megan arrives at the yarn store to confront Chloe. This time, Megan holds the power, considers revealing something important, then doesn’t. She walks out the door on her own terms. I ended up landing that chapter on what has become one of my favorite images:
“I unlock my car to get away from that jazz singer’s voice, full of silk and smoke, textured with loss and longing, and how I used to sing all the words without even liking the music, but tonight, watching my ex-best friend in an empty store, choosing the company of colors and that voice, choosing those things over going home, I close my eyes and lean against my car and listen, finally understanding how a person can crave the lonely sound of someone else’s heartbreak.”
What’s surprising to me, though, is I’ve learned as much or more about novel writing and revising from reading my fellow group members’ manuscripts. Every time we meet, I come home buzzing with ideas of how to revise my own work.