The internet and books can provide you with a wide range of information to help you improve your writing, true. But, as far as the internet, I have found that the majority of what you find are the ‘rules,’ such as grammar. And sure, there are some sites—and many books—where you can find general information about plot, pacing, conflict and the like. But for detailed information, information about your book/poem/short story, there’s no place like a writing group to get good, honest criticism to help make it better.
In both books and on the internet, I’d read authors who said that joining a writing group/critique group had helped them improve as writers. I was leery of the idea, however. But seeing the same advice over and over, I thought I should at least see what all the fuss was about. So, gathering my courage, I attended one. I had joined the Facebook group for the San Antonio Writer’s Guild, and I saw a post there about free critique sessions that were starting up. I read up how it would work, printed out copies of the first few pages of chapter one of my next book, and on the meeting day, drove over, terrified. You see, I had just put up my first book on Amazon the night before, and, while my test readers all loved it, they are not ‘professionals,’ so I was not sure how my writing would be received by other authors. It went shockingly well. Well, shocking to me—I had no idea what to expect. Everyone there was a writer, and the genres represented were wildly diverse, which in itself was valuable to me, allowing me to see and hear how plot, pacing, etc, works in varying types of writing. The one thing you need to remember, though, is to not take the criticisms personally. Use them. They are inside information, valuable insights. Do keep in mind that it is your work, your writing, so pick and choose what suggestions you want to incorporate. But even those you don’t use can help you see things in a new light.
I have learned a great deal about writing that I did not know before. Some of the things I have learned so far I had never even read or heard hints about. Others, bits I had read about, I finally ‘got’ when explained in practical terms. I find that the aspect of writing that I need to work on most right now is point of view. I tend to have a wider point of view than is customary, so I am trying to refine it, to tighten it up a bit in my writing. And that is the value of these groups. You learn about the art of writing, the craft.
Anyone can look up the definition of ‘past tense’ on the internet, but I had never found any talk about how to handle a large section in your book that takes place in the past, how to transition into that section and how to transition out, except in my group. And it works. The tip: Use a had or two to lead into the section and one or two to lead out. The rest of the time, use whatever your normal tense is (I write in past tense, though some write in present). This way had doesn’t appear a million times in the section. I also try to throw in a now (or some other mechanic) at the end beyond just going back to the normal tense to let the reader know that we’ve returned to the present.
Though it is terrifying, I highly recommend finding a writing/critique group in your area and get into it. You can’t put a price on the things you will learn.