So, this week we had not one but two Quark writing group meetings. And they both were really good! There was a surprisingly good turnout at each one, and I think that everyone went away with some good feedback for their stories. Plus, some of the newer guys are getting motivated to write stuff of their own, so we’re really having some success!
The general feedback I got from several of the members was that we needed to either split the group or meet more often. I added in my own idea into that, which was to lower the number of stories we look at. Drek says that the ideal size for the writing group is about six. I think that we can still do good with ten or twelve people, but we’ve got to add more time for the stories–which means that we only look at four stories instead of six.
And actually, during both of these meetings, four seemed just about right for what we were doing. A half hour for each story seems like enough for everyone to say everything they wanted to but short enough to keep up focused and on task. Or, rather, to keep me focused and on task, because I’m probably the biggest tangent starter in the group!
Tuesday’s meeting was interesting because, to my knowledge, everyone there was either a freshman or new to the group this semester. And we had about ten people, and an excellent meeting! Word has been getting out about us.
Also, I think that the group is doing really well because we all seem to be doing a good job taking criticism. There was this one story this week that I really had a lot of criticism for, and I was a little bit worried about hurting the author’s feelings, but she really wanted to hear it and really ate it up, then thanked me later. There were a couple of other stories today where people had a LOT of criticism, on a lot of different things in the story, but I think that the authors came away with a much better idea of what they were doing. Hillary in particular said afterwards that the writing meeting today really helped to point her in the right direction with one problem she didn’t know how to fix, which was how to have an obnoxious narrator at certain parts and third person limited POV at others.
And really, I think the key thing for the meetings themselves it the quality of the discussion. It’s better to give criticism that will be helpful and useful than it is to hold back for fear of possibly hurting someone’s feelings. Of course, you need to be careful in the delivery of that criticism, but if you’re talking about the story itself and not the writer personally, I don’t think there really should ever be an issue. And really, the serious writers are going to WANT criticism, so the key is to make it worth their time. That’s what’s going to really keep this club alive and powerful–useful criticism.
Still, I wonder if we could raise our ability to critically read fiction. Maybe if we did like the book club, and had the bookstore discount certain books like Strunk and White’s Elements of Style or Orson Scott Card’s Character and Plot, then encouraged everyone to read them (and yes, I know that OSC is the “nemesis” of the writing group, but he does have some very good and useful things to say about writing). Maybe we should team up with the English department and get some faculty to share with us a short discussion on fiction and how to read it critically. Maybe we should get Brandon Sanderson to come and speak at one of our meetings. I don’t know. I’ll see what I can do!
But I also think it’s important that we do some things informally as well–such as having social activities outside of writing meetings. I hear that that’s what really got the writing group solidified in the beginning, and you can still see that in the strong friendships between the oldtimers (as well as the HUGE number of them who got married thru Quark!) . I’m encouraging people to hold different writing parties for the month of November, where we can just hang out, write, have word count races, talk about our frustrations and the good times, etc. I’m going to try to host one or two up here at the FLSR, but it’s a pretty noisy place so I don’t know if I can find the space. But hopefully, it will work.
So, things are going VERY well–and I think that most of it has more to do with what everyone else has done and is still doing than anything I’ve done of myself. I’m just providing the framework–the dates, deadlines, the space, and the reminders–but YOU guys are making it come to life! Thanks to all of you!