Here's my two cents on writing groups and, please believe: it is wordy.
I'm not covering finer points because I don't have the authority for that. Just gonna tell the tale of how I broke down and succumbed and how good a decision that was.
|Uergatas, captured by Beastmaster Grimmet to battle in Keswal|
concept art by Jason Tasi
I've been conceptualizing, dreaming of, and working on Turesia for... a long freaking time.
Before I published A Sawmill's Hope, at a point when I was pretty sick of looking at it, I became inflicted with another story. It was inspired by a whirlwind of ideas. The combat and rivalries of UFC fights. The unlimited lives of games like Super Mario Brothers. An archipelago nation in civil war that has been split such that the brutes are on one side and the magicians are on another. And, as is becoming usual for me, a tragic fairy tale.
I wrote a very rough draft for Turesia. It was about 60,000 words, roughly 180 pages, the length of a short novel. Then I stumbled upon Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself. It blew my mind. I proceeded to blaze through the First Law trilogy, getting an education on tight third-person point of view. With this knowledge (albeit in infant stage), I plopped my ass down to rewrite A Sawmill's Hope. Thirteen agent rejections and a Kickstarter later, ASH came to life.
During that year, Turesia lay dormant. Neglected. Stephen King has commented on the danger of letting a work in progress stagnate and he was right. I loved the potential in my draft. I loved the characters and setting and monsters. But when I came back to it, my draft was a mess. And igniting my passion for the story felt like trying to crank a chainsaw underwater.
Memories of how I imagined the story were vague at best. I had scattered notes and a wildly inconsistent draft. I tried starting it again and again, experimenting with different ideas and approaching the story from different angles and viewpoints. I tweaked scenes, characters, the magic system. I trashed every scene I wrote. Nothing worked.
I almost scrapped the story more than once. I questioned whether being a writer was even a thing I could do, considering how insurmountable the process had become.
Brandon Sanderson, the robot that types out a ten-pound cinder block of a novel every other Tuesday, has preached on the significance of writing groups. I'd been reluctant to the idea of writing groups. Among my more unrealistic (and laughably delusional) fears were:
Show my million-dollar ideas to strangers so they can snatch and run?
Take on the responsibility of educating plebeians to reach my lofty level of literary luminosity?
More realistically, if I can't make progress in the story with the time I have, committing to critiquing someone else's writing is the last thing I should do.
Turns out I was wrong. All the way.
One year ago today my coworker Ben and I sat down for lunch at the only Mexican restaurant in the town I work. We hashed out ideas and agreed to swap an excerpt, chapter, or scene (typically not to exceed 5k words) every Friday. We'd meet the following Friday with our own feedback on what we were given and a new scene to hand over. Or goal was to simply remark on to the other person's excerpt. Not really suggest fixes or improvements, just react. "I was confused here." or "I didn't buy this." or "This was hilarious." or "This bored me." That sort.
Well, it worked. Since August 19th, 2016 we've met every Friday minus maybe eight for holidays and vacations. I've written about 140,000 late-draft level words. While that may feel like a low rate, I rejoice in it. This pseudo-deadline has benefited my consistency in writing more than any passion or idea ever has. I have a 40 hour a week job that requires me to be on call after hours. I have a wife, and two sons that I want to spend all my spare time with. I'm a member of two bands that, together, keep me active on the bass.
[On a separate subject entirely, whenever a person tells me they want to write a book but don't have time, I'm learning polite ways to tell them: The obstacle is not your lack of time, it's your priorities. And I'll argue them to the ground on that point.]
Ben has finished enough short stories to be ready to publish a collection. His style is more science fiction / suspense, particularly near-future. Mine is gritty fantasy that takes place in Silexare. But since we're both readers at heart, there is no judgment or discrimination going on. We're able to see the potential in each others' works and enjoy the stories and scenes for what they are.
Before this becomes novel-length, here's some take away:
"Story Time" Pros:
-A deadline makes me write
-Ben's input is clever and useful
-Critiquing Ben's work bolsters my chops at critiquing my own
-Mexican food for lunch every Friday
"Story Time" Cons:
-I'll have to add these as they occur to me. The roughly $6 lunch bill every week is insignificant.
Hit me with your questions in the comments. I've blathered long enough.