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Monday, February 17, 2014

The path to publication (1e)

About a month after we met, I turned up to meet the members of the ad hoc writing group. There were four of us, and each had brought a few pages of our recent work to share. The group leader was serious about writing, having completed the entire Curtin University writing course part-time while also working. 'Show don't tell,' she said to me. I didn't know what she was on about. 'Don't use so many descriptions after dialogue. He said or she said is better, and even leave them out if you can.' There were lots of good tips. At the time I didn't want to follow them. There's more than one way to write. We're writing in different genres. What does she know. I'm reluctant to admit that all these reactions were swirling around in my head. It was fun to meet with other writers. I'd found it hard to keep focus doing it all alone. Writing is done alone, but eventually it's meant to be shared with readers, and it was nice to share the experience. We planned to meet each month. One benefit of doing it this way was we each had a deadline, and aimed to have done at least something before the next meetup. It's easy to let a month or two whiz by with nothing written, when it's just you keeping check, and when life and the job that pays the bills gets in the way. I really like the idea of the writing group. In theory. I just wasn't so good at it in practice. After being told lots of useful hints that my hostess had gleaned across an entire, and reputable, writing course, I still wasn't convinced that they knew better than I did. But what I was most keen for was their critique of my work in progress. I brought a sample to our second meeting. When we swapped each other's samples, my heart was in my mouth. Getting feedback from other writers, this was what I was really here for. I couldn't wait to be told how funny my stories were, or how well I'd worded a paragraph, or how entertaining it was. I'd have a long wait. When the samples were returned, we went through our feedback in detail. It was an interesting process, until it got to my chapter. 'I think you need to show more, there's too much exposition,' said one. I didn't even know what that meant. 'I think you could add some dialogue, to break it up a bit,' said another. 'You've got a rough draft, but I think you need to start again,' said the third. In my head, my reaction was WHAT THE HELL WOULD YOU KNOW. I was affronted. Offended. Riled. Disappointed. I didn't let on how outraged I was at their attack on my perfectly fine chapter, but I did look deflated. When I got home that evening, I swore I would never again bother going to that group. Who needed them? What did they know? And so I didn't. I stayed at home on the monthly Tuesday nights. But another thing I also didn't do - I didn't write anything else either. I was stymied. I didn't know how to go on with it. Plus I didn't feel like it. There was already a book about touring out there, so what was the point wasting my time trying. Then around about seven months later, it occurred to me that maybe, if I wanted to get writing, I needed to talk to people who knew how hard it was. And I needed to make minigoals, like we had when we set targets to achieve for our next meeting. And if I wanted to improve my writing, and widen my target audience, maybe just maybe the other writers had something they could teach me. I texted the hostess out of the blue, and asked if I could come to the next meeting. She replied to say fine, and it was on the following week. Knowing it was so soon, I went off and started to dabble with a few sentences. And when I went back, the other writers in the group were so welcoming, and so helpful, that I realised their advice had been constructive criticism after all. I had a lot to learn. But I'd already learnt the first, most important lesson - to open yourself up to criticism, and grow a thicker skin, in order to try and do better. I'll always be grateful to them for their comments, but also for not commenting on my absence while I was being a sullen cow. So go grow that thicker skin and get writing!

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