Story Worms: A Little Help From my Friends


Writing so often feels like a solitary endeavour – holed up in your office, door closed to any interruptions (except for offerings of coffee and biscuits of course), head down and immersed in a world only you know about. It can be very lonely being a writer.

But it doesn’t need to be such a cloistered existence, and the internet has revolutionised your opportunities to connect with other writers.

I am the member of a writing critique group on Google+. It’s an exclusive group made up of 10 very talented writers, who are tirelessly eager to help, advise, and encourage one another, despite the fact that they are all busily chasing their own writing careers.

One very important element for having a successful writing group is trust. When you put any writing out to publication, out to public scrutiny, it’s a big risk, and it can be terrifying. You’re not just sending words out to be dissected, it’s your blood, sweat and tears. Your heart. Your soul. But to show others your first draft, your incomplete stories, full of mistakes and plot holes, and actively ask for criticism: you need a thick skin. And you need to trust your writing group.

There’s a talent to critiquing others’ work. It’s knowing the difference between giving criticism and being critical. It’s not enough to say “I don’t like this”, or “this doesn’t work for me”. Why don’t you like it? How can it be improved?

It can be hard to listen to what people have to say about your writing, and you’re not going to agree with everything they suggest. It takes experience and a little stubbornness to be able to choose between the advice you’ll follow, and the advice you’ll ignore. But you do need to consider it all. I’ve often dismissed advice, only to realise it was right a few more drafts along.

Your first draft is a petulant teenager, sure it knows best, adamant that its Mother is wrong. Your third draft has emerged from puberty, realising that its Mother was right about everything.

There will always be things you can’t pick up on yourself. You’re too close to the project – you know what it is that you meant to say. As the writer, you know a lot more than your readers. You know all the things you choose not to include, and your brain makes leaps and connections that your reader simply doesn’t have the insight to make. I once sent a beta reader a third draft of a story, only for her to point out that my characters magically teleported from the bedroom to the kitchen. In three drafts, I hadn’t noticed that.

I know for a fact that my Google+ group has improved my writing. I have little doubt that they have helped me to get published. I, in turn, hope that I have helped to improve their work.

But the true value of a writing group, is its role as a support structure. Whether you lean on those struts every week, at every stage of your story, or if you just check in when you feel lost and need to know you’re on the right path, it’s nice to know there are people there who understand, who empathise, and will be brutally honest when you need them to be.

As long as you give as much as you take, a writing group, even when it’s made up of people you’ve never met, living on the other side of the globe, a writing group is a writer’s very best friend. (That and my cat. Who has taken to perching on my shoulder whenever I write.)

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