Monday, 18 July 2011

The Cirencester Writers' Group

I mentioned last October that, after the Cheltenham Literature Festival, I was setting up my own Writers' Group. I thought I'd take some time to put down the two common pitfalls of writers groups - both of which I've tried to avoid in my own.

Pitfall one: amateur hour
Let's face it, nearly everyone has plans to write a novel at some point. We all fancy ourselves as expert graspers of the English language (is 'graspers' a word? Oh well) and believe that we have something to say that will thrill everyone else. However, most people with such a dream fall at the first hurdle, which is to put anything down in writing. A goodly number fall at the second hurdle, which is to put anything down in writing that is readable. Then, nearly all the rest fall at the third hurdle, which is to put anything down in writing that is publishable.

People who are going to fall at hurdles two or three are those who tend to attend writers' groups. I have, however, met a woman who wanted to join my group, despite telling me that she was an artist and had no plans to be a writer...she just liked 'creative people'. Oddball. Anyhoo, I wanted to find those people who were on the way to the finish line, rather than those who were never going to make it past hurdle two or three. After all, if I want to make it, I want advice and support from people who are likely to make it themselves.

So, when I asked people to join my writers' group, I specified that it must be for people who are serious about their writing. Only those who were intent on reaching that finish line of publication were invited.

Pitfall two: style wars
I want to write commercial fiction. I see no shame in this. Why on earth should I? Wouldn't all writers want their work to be read and appreciated widely? Well, no. Unfortunately not. Many writers (even published ones, but I've personally found many unpublished ones to be worse about this) think that the sign of good writing is that nine-tenths of the population have no idea what they're rabbiting on about. Not me. The last thing I wanted for my writers' group was a wannabe writer looking down their nose at the rest of us while we groped our way through their muddy prose, informing us that we didn't have the intellect to understand.

So, when I asked people to join my writers' group, I specified that it was for people who wanted to write commercial fiction. And, by commercial fiction, I meant anything that sells well.

The story so far...
So far, it's gone really well. I started off with fourteen names and email addresses at the Cheltenham Festival, and ended up with seven people turning up regularly.

Like all groups who gather, we tend to wander off into chat when the opportunity presents itself, but I feel like I've learnt so much from each of the people who've joined. We each share our work and invite comments, and I've found that I put time and effort into the feedback I give as well. One of our number has even secured an agent! (yes, I admit, I'm madly envious, but it just spurs me onwards!)

And, you never know, perhaps in a few years, a publisher or agent somewhere might wonder about how it came to be that so many new authors hail from around the Cirencester area...

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