I have a theory that writing classes and writing grops are nothing but another form of procrastinating. Not only that, they’re a way to create this mental universe where everyone in that small room of people is meant to represent the whole reading population.
You get this idea that if everyone there likes your book then everyone in the world will and that if no one there likes it then no one outside that room will either. Even though, everyone in that room probably represents a very small niche, as another writer who chose the same group as you. In fact, you might actually just be reading to a room of ‘yous’.
I have a similar dislike of writing manual’s, even when they’re written by the most successful, respectable writers in the world. Reading them is just another distraction from actually writing. Furthermore, it’s arguably a bit lazy. It’s like requesting a stencil or a pattern for your writing.
I know that many people love writing classes and writing manual’s and have found success using them, so, I’ll explain my own negative experiences with them…
I joined a writing group a little while ago, a good writing group none-the-less. The other attendees were supportive, yet critical. The teacher was experienced and professional yet, modest. However, I found the course completely unhelpful. In fact, I found it stifling to have the technicalities of ‘how a story works’ thrust upon me and the structure of ‘how to form a story’. Of course, I was repeatedly reminded that there are exceptions to the rules but once those bullet points were in my head, I couldn’t get rid of them. I found myself aiming for the highs, the lows, the turning points and the obstacles. There was no freedom in my writing, no creativity, just a mental checklist.
In terms of gaining feedback in these groups, it was even worse. I’d either have a cluster of nodding heads confirming that ‘you did good’ in which case I’d go home feeling that I needn’t improve on my writing. Or, I’d have a room of shaking heads making me feel that my writing was inadequate but with no real agreement on what was wrong or what to change. I became reliant on feedback that I didn’t necessarily agree with or understand. Of course, feedback is important because as a writer you need to satisfy your readers. But, as part of a ‘children’s writing class’ I wasn’t exactly reaching my target audience. I was only receiving feedback from a group of 20-60 year old adults. Yes, they’ve read and studied tonnes of children’s books but it’s not quite the same as having a 9-year-old read your story and say ‘this is crap, I don’t want to read this anymore’ or ‘I like this, I want to read more’.
When it came to reading writing manuals, I found that I was hanging off every word the book said, even when I felt that the advice didn’t particularly fit my piece of work. I’d think ‘well, they’ve written this book, they’re published, they must be right’! Then I’d try to follow the rules and make quite a mess of what I thought was originally a fairly good story.
My argument is that we all know how to tell stories without the aid of a manual or a teacher. We’ve all listened to stories since we were toddlers. We’ve read books and watched films. We heard more in our high-school history classes. We tell them on a daily basis. We tell stories at the pub, in the supermarket, at the park. We tell stories when we tell lies or when we make up day-dreams in our heads. We’re living stories. It comes naturally to us! We already know how it works. I don’t think we need a lesson or a book to teach us.