Writing is a lonely job. Sure, you can go on research trips, or let plot points bubble in your subconscious while you’re sorting your sock drawer, but a book won’t get written unless you sit at your desk and churn out words till you’ve got at least 80,000 of them. (In more or less the right order.)
Spending so much time alone means you can never really be sure if what you’re writing is any good. So, there comes a point where you have to take a deep breath and dip your delicate writerly toe into the icy waters of beta readers.
But finding the right readers isn’t easy. Your close friends and family might mean well but if they aren’t writers themselves, it can be hard for them to provide meaningful feedback beyond saying they (hopefully) love it!
That’s where a writing group comes in. The best people to advise you on your work-in-progress are usually other writers who are also working on their own books. I feel very lucky because I’m part of a brilliant writing group, and have been since 2012. We met on the Curtis Brown Creative 3-month writing course, and a few of us have continued to meet up every fortnight ever since. Six years on, we’re down to about five regular members – all talented, enthusiastic and generous writers. We take it in turns to submit 3000-word chunks of our novels and then provide written notes which we discuss over coffee/tea/cocktails in Waterstones, Piccadilly.
There were times during the long gestation of my novel, that hitting 3000-words each fortnight was the only thing keeping me going. Without my writing group, I might have gone weeks without looking at my WIP. And getting specific feedback is invaluable – how else can you ascertain whether your jokes raise a smile? Or that your cultural references aren’t sailing over readers’ heads?
I’d been writing and re-writing the first half of my book for years before I stumbled on a way through to the end: a new title and new backstory for my two main characters. It was a little daunting to open a new document and start the story again, but my writing group confirmed the new ideas worked and this helped me find the courage to keep going and get to the end. It was my group who helped shape the sub-plot that had rendered me inert for months. And one very inspired member also provided a neat twist that unlocked the ending of the book. And when I realised I needed to change the title yet again, it was a brilliant one-hour emergency session that produced the current title of my now finished book.
And outside our meetings, my writing friends – and friends we certainly now are – were there at the end of the phone to help with last-minute submission nerves and providing lightning fast proof-reading on new sections that needed writing ASAP.
What we didn’t realise when we started the group was that we’d coach each other not only through the writing process, but also through the labyrinthine path to publication. Being a published author doesn’t mean we might need each other less. If anything, we rely on each other even more, having developed a short-hand that’s impossible to recreate without the hours we’ve put in nurturing each other’s creative endeavours. The fun part is that our support of each other now extends to cheer-leading at book launches and banging the social media drum.
We’ve managed five published books between us. And none of plan on stopping any time soon. Thank you, guys. Until I have my own acknowledgement page, this post is for you.