Before joining a writing group, I never read to actually study the craft. I read to understand, to learn, and to be enlightened and entertained. Not once did I consider whether an author used adverbs sparingly, overdid it with to be verbs, or used dialogue to move the story along.
My local group introduced me to the South Carolina Writers’ Association. From the upstate to the coast and everywhere in-between, the organization has chapters with writers like the ones in my sweet hometown of Camden. Being a part of these groups opened up a whole new world of links to others who are also trying to improve their writing and encourage others to do the same.
At the SCWA annual conference in Pawleys Island this past October, I took copious notes and am still reading through them and finding gems like the three below.
Don’t compare yourself to others. This is a hard one for me. I’ve often been overheard saying, “She (or he) is the best writer in the group. I can never write like her.” That might be true, and yet so what? I can admire and learn from others, but I have my own voice that I can fine tune. I don’t need to change that voice to fit into a mold. For instance, one person in my group has the remarkable ability to “kill the darlings” without qualms while I hesitate mightily on striking through what might be unnecessary words.
Not everyone will love your work. Everyone in our group has different interests, genres, and experience. Religion, science fiction, abuse, family connections, ghosts, history, and memoir are but a few of our recent topics. As members of the group, we all understand the importance to read and critique one another’s work. While I don’t “get” science fiction, I plow through it, and as a consequence, imaginary worlds have materialized. Same with poetry. I have the utmost respect for poets but feel paralyzed and anxious when confronted with a poem to critique. Still, I persist. Do I need to say how much I appreciate the critiques of members who read my work and offer a few words even if it’s not their bailiwick?
Side note: I usually abide by the principle of not using fancified words in speech or writing, but I like bailiwick.
Persistence is more important than talent. One summer, a member of our group went to a Wildacres writing retreat and shared his experiences with us, all hungry for tips, magic formulas, and encouragement. Everyone gained from Douglas’ report, and what I remember most was something he told about a well-known North Carolina writer who once felt discouraged and a tad angry by something a professor had said about his work.
He soon realized that the professor was likely correct in his assessment and that he, the writer, had taken the class to improve the craft. If he got angry and quit every time someone said something he didn’t like, how could he develop? He did what everyone with a true vision does; he brushed off his shoulders and went to work.
A novelist, short story writer, and poet, the once discouraged student has written several books, one that’s been made into a movie. He had talent, but what if he’d given up? “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.” Calvin Coolidge
Sometimes I’m led to exactly what I need to be reminded of, and today I refuse to compare myself to anyone else, to remember that not everyone will like what I have to say, and to be persistent.