My writing group is becoming increasingly helpful. It’s scary to submit one’s work, yes. But if you don’t, how will you know if you’re improving? And if you don’t belong to a group and you aren’t taking classes, how are you learning?
When I first joined the group a few years ago, I wrote what I called “flat out writing,” my term for writing based primarily on an introduction, main body, and conclusion. I always started out letting the reader know what to expect, and after making sure each paragraph had a topic sentence, I’d include illustrations, explanatory phrases, and descriptive terms to get my point across. Then I’d close with some sort of summative paragraph–or sentence.
It worked but was kind of boring. (I hope no one in my writing group reads this because someone would definitely scold me about using “it.”)
I still do a good bit of “flat out writing,” but now I’ve learned to mix it up with other types. For instance, my group encouraged me to try using dialogue. And then someone suggested that if I wanted to write fiction, I could try changing the pronouns from first person to third person. I became Ellen or Lillie, whoever I wanted to be that day.
From listening to the fiction writers in the group, I discovered that name choices are very important, so I chose Ellen because that was almost my name. My mother wanted to call me Jane Ellen, but my father was against it. Apparently, there was a bratty little kid named Ellen in one of his elementary school classes who was the bane of his young existence.
And Lillie was my great aunt, one I never knew because she died at five years of age. I saw her tombstone a few years ago at a cemetery behind Racepath Baptist Church, and until that moment I never knew of her short life. The stone said “Darling Daughter Lillie,” and as silly as it might seem to readers, I feel that using her name is a way of keeping her memory alive.
It’s hard to break away from factual writing, to make the switch from nonfiction to fiction, but I’ve been experimenting with it. This summer, I wrote a piece filled with I, I, I, but after taking heed to my group’s advice, I changed I to Ellen and submitted the story to a journal. It was accepted! I think changing I to Ellen made all the difference. Plus, I used some descriptive words just like the group members recommended, something that wasn’t that hard to do once I began really focusing on the scene and characters.
The group met Thursday morning, and I was determined to have something to submit. I didn’t want them to see my BIG PROJECT yet, so I sent four short pieces that I’ve recently written to prompts. I’ve used prompts before, but it wasn’t until I heard Bob Strother, a North Carolina writer and the keynote speaker at our recent workshop, that I realized it isn’t necessary to follow adhere strictly to the prompt.
For instance, in A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves, the prompt for September 13 is “She left a note.” A few months ago, I would have used that phrase word-for-word in whatever writing it inspired. Now I’m thinking of using the prompt for the way my protagonist (Ellen) felt when she got in her car and read the note, “Ice cream and juice.” Stay tuned. It’s going to be good.
I’m over my 500 words, the recommended word limit for blogs, but I have to include a quote from Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic. “I will fall asleep with my face in my dinner plate if someone starts discoursing to me about the academic distinction between true mastery and mere craft.” She then goes on to say many other clever and funny things that I might share in another post.
For now, I’m learning the craft and am aware that I’m a long way from mastery. But does it matter? I’m learning and having fun doing it. What about you?