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A hermit’s approach or group therapy?

January 25, 2011

Here are two scenes for you to consider: The lone artist, inspired, struggling on an inner journey to get his story onto the paper. And the group of artists agitatedly discussing their works and helping, promoting and competing with each other. – In which of those scenes do you belong?

Last weekend, I went to meet a handful of other writers to discuss our stories and ideas and generally have a nice time with others of “our kind”. While this particular event was new to me, I am member of a writing group which meets once a week. Each time we have read an excerpt or a piece of short fiction by one of the group’s members and discuss it. We also get writing prompts and create something based on them. Very often, we read them aloud to each other and get comments. I enjoy this sort of thing. It’s great motivation and support, and I like the atmosphere of concentration and creativity when everybody is working.
Occasionally I am part of collaborations. These come in various shapes and sizes. I’ve written stories with a single person using a method of practically writing every second paragraph. I’ve been involved in projects where several people write a chapter and everybody has chipped in by “donating” a couple of characters to the story that we thought up together. Right now I’m part of an experiment and will be writing a short part of a story that someone else will have to continue, but apart from a few pointers, no one knows what is going to happen or what characters will be in it.

But support and fun and collaborations is one thing. The writing itself must be done in solitude even when there are others around. Something is inside a writer’s head, and the only way out is through the writer. I feel that I belong in both of the scenes that I described above. No one can do the writing for me, because it is personal. No one knows what is inside my head and how I should translate into a story. I appreciate feedback very much, but no one can tell a writer exactly how to do something, that what they are doing is right or wrong (with the exception of purely technical details). We can read books on writing and lists of “how to”. Still, at the end of the day, we are alone with our muses. Yes, ideas can be discussed and works can be shared. But the hands-to-keyboard or pen-to-paper process is our own. And it’s a challenge that every writer take on, the challenge of creation or of conveying what is inside to the outside.

Now, I’ll leave you with a link that I found on Untitlement. It’s Page 99 Test. The concept is simple: Read samples of fiction taken from the 99th page of a random story, tell the author if you would turn the page or not, and leave a comment if you want to. You can upload your own page 99 too and see what others think of it.
Do I think that it’s a waterproof method of evaluating a story? No. What may seem random or boring out of context could be really interesting if you have read the previous 98 pages. And what may seem interesting may theoretically be one of the only interesting passages in the whole book. But I do think it’s a fun way to get comments and to see if your style is immediately captivating.

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28 Comments leave one →
  1. January 25, 2011 5:11 pm

    I find myself in agreement. While I seldom collaborate on stories, I do like very much to sit around with other creative types and go over story ideas. I find I am quite creative in conversation with other creative types.

    But, bottom line, writing is a solitary craft, and frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Like

    • January 26, 2011 10:28 am

      Thank you for the comment!
      Oh yes, going over story ideas with others is great. Sometimes a question or a comment can spawn whole new ideas or help you develop what is already there.

      Like

  2. January 25, 2011 5:21 pm

    Years ago, I belonged to a poetry group and a journaling group. We met during the spring and summer at an independent bookstore. I’d either walk to the bookstore or get a ride with someone- it was easy to do in a college town. We also organized a festival of poetry and art at a cultural center every year. It was a proud time. We advertised our groups in the newspaper, and gave poetry readings at restaurants and coffee shops. Then I moved to the east coast, and the last I heard, the cultural center decided to stop hosting the festival. So the festival stopped. I don’t know whether the groups are still meeting. The independent bookstore had to close.

    Since I’ve started writing fiction with the goal of publishing novels, I keep thinking about signing up for an online (I don’t drive) fiction critique group or finding a critique partner. But I want to know something about a potential critique partner first, and know they enjoy my genre. And I’m hesitant. I’ve had too many experiences of teaming up with somebody for a writing or art project, only to have the other person bail out. That’s such a let-down.

    Like

    • January 25, 2011 8:49 pm

      I can’t imagine teaming up with anybody to write a novel. I know what I want to achieve in a story, and I don’t think I could tolerate any input that would change it in ways that didn’t fit my vision. I’ve been grateful for critiques that I’ve received because they showed me what I was doing right as well as what I might be doing wrong. Most of all, they gave me a different perspective to consider, without obligating me to consider whether I should give way on a point of disagreement.

      Like

      • January 25, 2011 9:03 pm

        I haven’t ever considered teaming up with someone to write a novel either. That’s not something I would consider. I have, however, teamed up with people for poetry and art collaborations, only to have them change their minds about participating.

        Like

      • January 26, 2011 10:39 am

        I agree with you. My novels are mine (well, they’re the characters’, but I’m writing them), and like you I definitely wouldn’t want others to change them so that they don’t fit my idea.
        But I like collaborations just for fun. Those that I’ve participated in have never been novels, more like short stories or almost roleplaying (writing from your own character’s point of view and have them interact with someone else’s). One example is the annual Christmas story that my writing group does. Each member writes an installment, and we have all agreed on the overall story from the beginning.

        Like

    • January 26, 2011 10:32 am

      Wow, those groups sound really inspiring. I’ve never done a reading anywhere (except in the cosy, confined midst of the writing group), but I rather like the idea of writing groups arranging something like that.
      A critique partner sounds like a good idea. But I can definitely relate to not wanting someone who bails out. Perhaps there is a greater chance of feedback in a bigger group?

      Like

      • January 26, 2011 4:27 pm

        A bigger group . . perhaps that’s what I’ll do. Thanks for the suggestion. 🙂

        Like

  3. January 25, 2011 7:35 pm

    I agree with you, M. Talking about ideas with others can be productive, but writing, itself, is not a spectator sport.

    Writing, good writing, requires solitude, a separation of self from the world ~ at least long enough for thoughts worthy of sharing to emerge.

    Rushing to post a barely started novel is like trying to birth a baby as soon as it is conceived, without bothering to wait the necessary nine months of gestation. 😉

    If you’re interested:
    http://nrhatch.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/premature-ejaculation/

    Like

    • January 26, 2011 10:43 am

      Oh yes. I frequently practise separating myself from the world. At least this world. 😉
      Some stories are almost finished before I start writing, others are discovered along the way. But it always takes sometime especially with novel length stories (even those written during NaNoWriMo).
      Thank you for the link!

      Like

  4. January 25, 2011 7:45 pm

    I posted a comment, and it disappeared. If it’s not in your comments to be approved folder, let me know and I’ll try again.

    Thanks, M

    Like

    • January 25, 2011 10:46 pm

      I found it and recovered it. Wonder why the spam filter took it. Well, will reply to it later (it’s about bedtime here now).

      Like

    • January 25, 2011 10:57 pm

      Sweet dreams.

      Some blogs say, “Comment awaiting moderation.” This one just disappeared, so I wondered.

      Maybe it didn’t like me posting a link. 🙂

      Like

      • January 26, 2011 10:45 am

        Thanks!
        It’d gone into the spam section. I think it must have been the link. (Which is odd since it’s a link to your blog, not something with “erec7ion” or “v14gr4” in it like the usual spam mail …)

        Like

      • January 26, 2011 3:54 pm

        Ha!

        Some of the spam in my filter is so blatant. Glad that WP catches it.

        Like

  5. January 25, 2011 9:14 pm

    @CMStewart I suspect that most people who sign up for a collaboration don’t realize that it’s actually going to be work. Unless they write regularly themselves, they aren’t going to take such a collaboration seriously. And/or they’re not prepared to deal with a difference of vision that has to be worked out to the benefit of the creation.

    Like

  6. christicorbett permalink
    January 26, 2011 1:39 am

    M,

    That description of the writer’s group sounds exactly like the one I belong to (except we only meet every two weeks). Our group has been meeting for nearly two years and we are very supportive of all the members. I always get really excited when I have something new to share because I value feedback, good or bad.

    I’ve never done a collaboration before.

    I checked out my page 99…pretty happy, but as always it could use a bit of revising 🙂

    Christi Corbett
    http://christicorbett.wordpress.com

    Like

    • January 26, 2011 10:52 am

      Yes, isn’t feedback great? And wanting to get it motivates us to give others proper feedback too.

      That’s great! I have yet to check out my own page 99s. Did you sign up for the page 99 site?

      Like

  7. February 5, 2011 11:15 pm

    Surfing the waves of the web I am pleasantly stranded in this beautiful blog.

    I write under the pseudonym of Josè Pascal (a descendant of the great Colonel Aureliano Buendía).

    I invite you to visit my italian writing blog http://parolesemplici.wordpress.com/mytinbox/. I define this blog “In parole Semplici” as a “virtuacultural tin” box where they are guarded thoughts, memories, images, sounds, and simple stories. ”

    If you want to participate and to have more informations send me a letter to inparolesempli@gmail.com

    Good life and I hope to soon
    Josè

    Like

    • March 27, 2011 5:24 pm

      Thank you for your comment and the compliments.
      I wish you good luck with your own project, but I don’t read or write Italian.

      Like

  8. February 28, 2011 7:10 am

    I enjoy interacting with other writers on pieces we’ve written individually- blogging is a good example. I’ve never collaborated on anything other than research based writing, but it’s something I may pursue- so much to gained from the experience I’m sure.

    Like

    • March 27, 2011 5:04 pm

      Thank you for your comment!
      I find that there is something to be gained, but I also think it depends on your way of working. Interacting on individual pieces is something I find very helpful too. 🙂

      Like

  9. April 2, 2011 3:03 am

    When I was 10 (?), my older and cooler cousin suggested that we do one of those I-write-a-paragraph-you-write-a-paragraph stories. I was so exciting…and so disappointed. I don’t remember anything about the story except for how upset I was that my cousin kept taking it off in the wrong direction.

    At least I learned at an early age that I don’t collaborate well with others.

    Like

    • April 2, 2011 10:30 am

      Aw, that must have been upsetting. I think it’s important to have rules if you’re doing things like that. Either agree on a story beforehand so no one gets disappointed, or else agree that there really is no set story so that no one gets too attached.

      Like

  10. April 2, 2011 3:07 am

    Also, thanks for the Page 99 link. It’s an intriguing idea.

    Like

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  1. Writing groups and other people’s opinions « Howalt: A Writer's Blog

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