Join a writer’s group. Or start one.
It’s not easy to add one more commitment to a long list of things you have to do, but if you want to hold yourself accountable for writing a whole book, you’re going to need help.
Step One: Stop reading
You need to quit something. And the first thing that’s gotta go is reading. Stop curling up with a juicy book. Quit your book club. Reading (a lot) is the key to becoming a good writer, but writing is more important for you now. (Besides, if you are a writer, you’ve probably already done a good job on the reading part.)
Think of it like this. If you were going to be a chocolate maker, you would need to sample a lot of chocolate. But at some point, you’ve got to stop eating chocolate and start making chocolate. Over-indulgence will make you sick. You’ll get frustrated by all of the bad chocolate out there and how you could do it better. And when you taste a heavenly bite? You’ll get depressed, wondering if you could ever be as good.
Sound familiar? If this is how you feel when you browse through a bookstore, it’s time to stop reading and start writing. When you’re deep into your novel, you can start reading again. That’s when reading becomes an education rather than a pastime.
Step Two: Lay some ground rules
Mine wasn’t. My group was mean. And because of it, I have a much better novel. Finished and polished.
Make decisions about how you will all work as a group:
- Each person in the group critiques the week’s chapter without interruption from the author. After each person is done, the author gets to ask questions. Encourage the author not to defend his or her writing. (They won’t be there to defend themselves when people read the book after it’s published. Might as well get used to it.)
- Identify what’s working and what’s not. Pretend the author isn’t even there, so that each person can speak freely.
- Warn all members that the goal of the writer’s group is to get published and that it might be difficult to sit through the criticism at times. But also let them know that if they stick with it, they will surprise themselves with how good their writing becomes—and how bad their early stuff was. (I can attest to this.) You can’t see it without help.
Step Three: Find your people
Don’t worry about needing to find people who are writing in the same genre as you. A good book is a good book. The members of your new writer's group will have been voracious readers for years. They can help you identify qualities about any style of writing that are uniquely yours—the good, the bad and the ugly.