Lev AC Rosen is the author of All Men of Genius, a steampunk novel inspired by both Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. The novel follows Violet Adams as she disguises herself as her twin brother to gain entry to Victorian London’s most prestigious scientific academy, and once there, encounters blackmail, mystery, gender confusion, talking rabbits and killer automata. Rosen received his MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College. He lives in Manhattan.
We’ve been together a long time – over four years. That’s longer than I’ve been with my fiancé. And you’re still everything I need to keep up. Sure, I won’t lie, there were others before you. I remember one really bad evening spent over bad pasta with a woman who wouldn’t stop talking about the sales figures of her self-help book. I didn’t know what she was talking about, but apparently, I wasn’t impressed enough, and she got mad. I left soon after that. I took another woman who was with us that night with me. We got a few others together, and we’ve been together since. Yeah, baby, you’re the best writing group a man could hope for.
I love my writing group. And I think every serious writer who isn’t actively taking classes in writing should have one that they love, too. I don’t mean readers – people you show your work to when it’s done. I mean people you meet with regularly, who show you their work in progress and you show them yours, and you all talk. Why is this important? Let me bulletpoint it for you:
- Let’s face it, writers spend a lot of time in their heads, and socialization is important. Not just for hygene, but because when you’re working on something, you’re so close to it you can’t imagine how others will see it. Perspective is important
- It keeps you on schedule. If you know you’re handing out pages to a group of people on such a date, then you have those pages ready. Otherwise you’re wasting their time, and if you’re wasting the time of people who want to help you, you should feel ashamed. So yes, it keeps you on schedule. With guilt.
- Critiquing other peoples work helps you keep your own editing-brain fresh. Knowing what you like and don’t like in another piece of writing – and having to verbalize that like and dislike in front of them (Critique is different from Criticism) makes you realize what you like and dislike in your own writing. It helps you keep your own perspective fresh
- Brainstorming. You know what has to be done in a story, or what you’re trying to do, but for some reason people aren’t getting it. So tell your writing group. They’ve read the work, and when they know what you’re aiming for, they can help you understand why it isn’t there yet.
- The most obvious and important thing, which is really a combination of all the above, is that you get feedback and encouragement. You get energized to keep writing, you get excited about your work again, and you see what’s working, and what isn’t.
So what makes a good writing group? Ours has been together longer than most (fingers crossed this article doesn’t jinx it), so I feel okay saying what I think makes it work. Others in the group might disagree. I had a professor, David Hollander, who suggested writing groups should assemble the way bands do: you put up a flyer saying “Seeking Writing Group: Likes: Kafka, Voltaire. Dislikes: Tolstoy” and see who you get. I’ve never been in a band, so I have no idea how that comes together, but I know my writing group and I have different tastes. We all work on different things as well; from YA to historical fiction to scifi to literary to memoir. But I think Hollander has a good idea there – you want people who are going to be open minded to what you’re trying to do, not people who are going to say “why are you writing steampunk? That stuff sucks.” So open-mindedness is important in joining any group. If people in your group say something like “I don’t like mysteries” before even reading, and you’re writing a mystery, then don’t try to win them over. And if you’re someone who says “I don’t like mysteries” find a writing group that matches your tastes.
That said, I’d compare getting a working writing group together more to dating than forming a band (again with the disclaimer that I have no idea what forming a band is like). You need chemistry. You need to click with the people. Everyone has to bring the same level of commitment and understanding, and everyone has to be there because they want not only to get critiqued, but to help others. My writing group laughs a lot. And we socialize outside of group. If, after a few meetings, you don’t see yourself becoming friends with the people in your group, maybe it’s not the group for you. Being friendly, and knowing, absolutely positively that everyone there wants only what is best for each other will make writing group so much more fun and useful.