Networking–aka, hanging out with other writers–is one of my favorite things. My writerly friends are smart, funny, open-minded folk spread all over central Colorado. Yesterday I went to Boulder in the morning to talk about climate-change fiction, at noon to Arvada for lunch with five poetically oriented friends, and later that day to Denver to meet three other writers in our beta reading group.
As beta readers, we don’t write together or read to each other. Typically one of the four has shared a significant chunk of work well ahead of the meeting time. Our genres vary: crime fiction, memoir, speculative fiction and history-as-memoir. (Yes, I think I just made up that genre.) The basics of good writing apply in all cases, but what one of us sees as a headlong read another sees as needing more action. Someone else questions the writer’s motivation, and we struggle to say what sets us on the long road to writing a book.
The payoffs are the wine, the iced tea, the talk and the grand feeling that someone else is paying attention to our work. And we learn from each other. One is a formidable researcher, another can plot, a third is funny and courageous about personal history. One of us has a cache of writing tricks up her sleeve. (Including advice not to use a cliché like “tricks up her sleeve.”) Our process is akin to true beta readers, who are, I suppose, less attached to the writer than to the manuscript. Inevitably though, we have formed attachments that make it dicey to say anything negative about the text in question, but gentle honesty (e.g. not attacking personality or life style), sticking to principles and a dab hand at language allow us to help each other. Always, always, the writer remains in charge of the work. None of us can write another’s story, nor should we try.