Writing Advice
- Introduction
- A room of one's own?
- Where do you get your ideas?
- Where do I begin?
- What books do I need?
- How important is research?
- Should I join a writers' circle?
- Literary terms
- Typing it up
- Sending it off
- Penbenders
- Creating characters
- Constructing the story
- Short Fiction


Should I join a writers’ circle?

I know that many writers find that being with like-minded people bolsters their confidence, that they enjoy the social side of the meetings as much as anything else, and that they find the comments and opinions of the other members of the group stimulating and interesting. I know that The Diary of Adrian Mole was the product of Sue Townsend’s joining a writers’ circle, and that she is living proof of the benefit of such groups.

But I have never belonged to a writers’ circle and never could, because I can’t discuss my work with anyone until, as far as I am concerned, it is finished and ready to go off to the publisher. That’s how I felt when I was fifteen and writing short stories, and it’s how I feel now; neither my editor nor my agent  sees one word of my novels until they are complete. Then – and only then – am I prepared to discuss them. With anyone.

I would say to those who belong to writers’ groups that it’s as well to remember that any newly-created thing is fragile; a green shoot is easily trampled underfoot, and it doesn’t always spring back into shape. And I would ask you to remember that fragility, not when you are offering advice, when I’m sure you will be aware of it, but when you are receiving it.

Pay too much attention to what other people think, and you can find yourself over-tending your shoot, watering it and feeding it and covering it with glass, spraying it with insecticide and examining it daily to see if it has grown yet. Remember its fragility, please, because more green shoots die from interference by over-protective gardeners than die from natural causes.

If, when you are reading your work to the group, you find that people are sneaking glances at their watches and shifting a little uncomfortably as they listen, then, yes, perhaps what you’ve written needs some work, but you won’t know exactly what work, because the chances are your piece was never written to be read aloud.

The Diary of Adrian Mole, on the other hand, was. I have no way of knowing whether Sue Townsend intended it that way, but she was writing something she would be reading to the group, and she is a natural, so she knew instinctively how to do that. It is no surprise that its original success was as a radio programme, because that was how it was meant to be consumed.

And do bear in mind that novels aren’t read by groups, they’re read by individuals. You only have to glance at book reviews to know that individuals have individual tastes. Reviews of my novel Verdict Unsafe concluded, in one paper, that there was too little emotion and too much science, and in another that we were too deeply involved with the emotional turmoil of the rape victims. Once the novel has been published, what can you do but shrug? But while it is being written, you can tie yourself in knots trying to please all the people all the time, with the result that it never becomes a published novel.

Or perhaps I am the fragile green shoot, and those of you who cheerfully discuss your work in progress are perfectly capable of dealing with criticism even at the earliest of stages. I just think I ought to tell the others, the ones who are a little more like me, that not all advice, however constructive, has to be acted upon.

And that includes mine.


Jill McGown
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