Sunday, March 20, 2011

Guest Blogger Charlotte Hinger

We are very pleased to welcome Charlotte Hinger back to Type M. Kirkus Reviews praises Lethal Lineage Charlotte's newly released second Kansas mystery as "a worthy successor to Deadly Descent (2009). Deftly drawn characters and a complicated but believable mystery leave you yearning for more."

Writing Groups—A Double-Edged Sword

He meant well. This splendid sincere young man who smiled brightly and proudly announced some people were thinking of a starting a “little writing group.” He suggested “of course I would want to be part of it. Being a writer and all. In fact, they thought I was the ideal person to be in charge of it. Being a writer and all.”

I backed away saying I had some come back from a book tour and had driven through snow and sleet and hadn’t gotten to bed until two o‘clock in the morning and “I needed time to think.” Part of this was true—the bit about ice and snow and getting from Kansas and Colorado in the wee hours. Not true was needing time to think. I only needed time out to abstain from throwing a tantrum.

Truth is, I don’t like writing groups. I’ve never been in one, but I’ve visited a fair share and have opinions. I went with a friend to one where the members were mean as snakes. Writing is hard enough without subjecting oneself to this brand of negativity. I spoke to one for a hefty fee and realized the participants were presenting the same work year after year and the “leader” gave a new meaning to dominant personality. The members of another read their “work” to wild applause. All of them.

I critique a few persons' writing. One on one, and never for money. It’s a whimsical move on my part. Something in the eye of the person asking for help, or the irresistible appeal of sincerity. I’ve been helped and would like to pass it along. However, it’s a task I approach with a great deal of wariness, knowing I’m edging toward sacred ground. Although I have an impressive publication list, what do I know? I’m not qualified to comment on science fiction. I don’t seek out romances, but outstanding love stories make me cry. I don’t just love vampires, although I’m quite taken with some and believe the ultimate vampire book was The Historian. My tastes are rather literary, but I don’t like pretentious and obscure writers. So what do I know?

I know a lot of persons in writing groups don’t know much either. Only they are often fearless, whereas I’m inclined to quake with terror at the thought of messing someone up.

And there’s this problem: By some obscene quirk of fate, I’ve ended up working with five editors. Suddenly the gods of the publishing world smiled on me again. I have a weird half-life as an academic, my mystery series with Poisoned Pen Press (which I LOVE writing), and an editor at a university press who wants to publish a historical novel. When evening comes, I do not want to be in a “little writing group.” I want to read trashy novels and watch junk TV. In saner moments, I exercise to compensate for all that sedentary activity.

Some professional writers adore their critique groups, so I know my universal bias against them is unreasonable. Based on information I’ve gleaned from others’ experiences. here’s my advice to someone thinking of starting one. (1) Never, never allow the practice of reading work aloud. Send copies to participants in advance of the meeting and then elicit comments on the work. (2) Set a time limit on the meeting so it won’t morph into a mental health support group. (3) Have a set agenda or format for meetings. (4) It is not necessary for individuals to offer suggestions on each piece.

Years ago, Kansas novelist, Nancy Pickard offered the best advice of all at a conference: If a group makes you feel like not writing, leave it at once. Even if you don’t know why, just leave.

Come to think of it, Pascal said it first—“the heart has its reasons which reason cannot know.”

Deadly Descent (September 2009) Poisoned Pen Press (Kirkus Starred Review)

Winner of the 2010 AZ Book Publishers Award for Best Mystery/Suspense

Lethal Lineage March 2011


Vicki Delany said...

Thanks Charlotte. I've also had my ups and downs. I like the line about leaving it as soon as it isn't working, so important.

Anonymous said...

I love my writing group -- smart, supportive, willing to say what you NEED to hear. Shop around -- but don't dismiss writing groups without trying the process... Linda Wiken

Irene Bennett Brown said...

Hi Charlotte, nice to see you here!I was told, in a writers' group, that my young adult novel would never sell because it was a "farm" story and kids didn't like them. I was crushed but entered it anyway in a writers conference contest. It won the top prize of $200. The judge was an editor at Atheneum Publishing. She bought the book, Willow Whip, and five more to come.
I never found writers groups that helpful.

Donis Casey said...

Here's my writer's group story - before I started shopping around my first Alafair book, I joined a group that read pages of each other's work. The first night I took ten samples home and read them, I suddenly realized that mine was pretty good (sounds horrible, doesn't it?). I too entered mine in the annual Oklahoma Writers Federation fiction contest and won first prize. So that group gave me confidence, but .I personally have never found a group that was helpful to my writing. I'm sure they're out there. I know so many great writers who love their groups. I suppose if you really want to find one, you have to persevere.

Heidiwriter said...

Your 4 tips are excellent ones. I do belong to two weekly critique groups and I owe much of what little publishing success I've had to them. I work very hard in any group I'm in to make it a safe, supportive place for others to share their work. I encourage them to offer constructive critique, not to tear down and not blanket applause. Not all benefit from groups, not everyone is ready for that when they first begin. But for me, it's essential. One thing they provide for me is a deadline, to keep me writing!

Larry said...

Hi, Charlotte,
So many good writers I know and respect credit their groups for a great deal of success in their work, but I've never belonged to a group, and doubt I ever will. Aside from not wanting to mess up someone else's work, I don't want someone else messing up mine. I'm a seat of the pants novelist, and my stories, with their characters, develop in the process of writing them. I can see where I was heading, and what I was trying to say, only after I've finished the book. I wouldn't want another writer directing my story onto what would have to be his or her road. And I don't need motivation - I look forward to sitting down to write 5 days a week.
Besides, in the time I'd spend at a group, I could be writing, and get my work to my editor that much sooner.

Charlotte Hinger said...

@anonymous--I know a number of authors who agree with you and adore their groups. One was in a terrific one in when she lived in TN and a bad one when when she moved to MT.

I think it's sort of like finding the right agent or right editor.

Charlotte Hinger said...

More on the writing groups debate. If you could see my rejection slips for historical novels!!! One editor would love the characters but not the book, another thought the book was good, but the characters needed more development.

My husband once asked "if all of these people are smart and are supposed to 'know' how can they have such opposite opinions?"

That's my point with writing groups. What if we are ruining someone's stuff? Recently an university press editor fell in love with one of my multi-rejected historical novels. The first reader thought it was flawless as written. She didn't. And she was right, by the way. I'm happy to integrate her suggestions