Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 180 - Best Approach to a Writers Group Meeting

At its core, the League is a writers group. Sure, we have this blog and other outreach efforts. When all is said and done, though, our primary focus is to serve each other as writers.

To that end, we meet once a month in a set place (Jen's apartment) on a set date (second Tuesday of the month). Anyone who plans on submitting something for feedback gives a two week notice (this is informal, but appreciated) so that we can coordinate how many things we'll have to cover. Pages should be in hand ideally a week before the meeting, but certainly no later than the Friday morning before we gather. We read. We take notes. And on that Tuesday, we meet. 

A writers group meeting can be all business, part fun, or any combination that works best for the people involved. Recently, we've been eating and sipping beer or wine during the meeting. None of this detracts from the ideas and comments; rather, it makes the evening a bit more casual, a bit more informal, and allows for an open discussion of the work. Before meeting at the apartment, we used to take over the conference room in my office. That worked to a degree, but on nights when there was a lot of material, people would get a bit restless. The less formal approach has served to keep our attention when there are numerous projects on the table.

Last night, we met for the first time in abut a month. My Medieval revenge spec was the only discussion item. I had prepped the group via an email that the script was a very obvious work in progress. The character relationships and dialogue were (and still are) in need of great work. But I refrained from giving specifics or highlighting my other concerns. I wanted to hear what they had to say and see if they picked up on anything I hadn't, or if some of the areas I found problematic were not too bothersome to them. They touched on everything I thought they would.

In a meeting, it can be all too easy to get caught up in the small details. "This line of dialogue doesn't work" or "I don't think they would say it this way." These smaller edits and points are all valid, but when a script isn't really working, they can detract from the attention the larger picture needs. Luckily, last night, everyone was prepared to help me look at the forest, and ignore the individual trees for the most part. That's what I needed, and that's what the group gave me.

The discussion quickly revealed a key device - which leads to a third act battle - and a supporting character that were both not working. Other scenes and arcs were falling flat, and the titular character wasn't holding her own. What else happened during the talk? A solution presented itself to me. I threw it out there for the group, and everyone took to it pretty readily. Implementing it will mean a major rewrite, nearly a page one new draft, but that's fine. I'll lose a lot, but I'll gain even more. The group showed me that the above mentioned device and character were getting in the way of the more important elements, and I ave no problems about losing them in favor of something much, much stronger.

There's no right way to run a meeting. It should be what you and your group members need it to be. Some groups are massive and meet whenever a few people are free. Some are smaller (we are now six) and meet regularly. Some meet only when there are pages (we just stick to our schedule, regardless). Some have food and drink; some cut right to business then cut loose. Whatever works for you is fine, but I believe that the writer whose work is up for discussion must lead the session by determining and clarifying what kind of feedback he or she wants. If you're curious as to what is working and what isn't, maybe consider refraining from stating specifically the beats you're worried about. If you know something is wrong and you want to figure out how to address that, then open with that - or better yet, mention it in the email that contains your pages. Either way, remember that the focus of the meeting, or at least that portion of it, is on your work and helping make it as strong as it can be. Come prepared with questions, but be ready to listen to all feedback, whether you agree with it or not. The time is yours; use it well.

Do any of you have suggestions for how to best manage a writers group meeting?

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