Thursday, 31 March 2011

I am sure writing groups

are helpful to some people but I do not belong to one. I made tentative inquiries about the local group. It meets in the library but it was clear that the group does not welcome newcomers and they are not interested in writing for children. I was told that this writing for children was "not really writing". They apparently are "serious about writing". They work on "poetry, short stories, plays and that sort of thing". Was anyone writing a novel? Oh yes, but definitely not anything for children. Oh, right. Writers for children not welcome? Writers for children not really writers? I slunk off feeling very unwelcome and did not bother them again. My father has a degree in English literature but his latter year reading tastes tend to the likes of Ian Rankin and Peter James or a new book of jokes. He has long since stopped reading Evelyn Waugh, James Joyce or Patrick White. He has read some children's literature in recent years. I will put something in front of him and say, "You might like that." He usually does. He will not read mine. He says he would be "too close". I agree. It would be unfair to ask him. My siblings are not interested. My local adult friends are not interested either. They do not read children's books. The Whirlwind reads and, with devastating honesty, tells me she likes things or does not like things but she cannot tell me why. A friend read three chapters and likes - but is it because she is a friend and her judgment is clouded by friendship? Someone I have only met once read the whole thing and said she enjoyed it - but she was brought up on the classics and never read children's books even as a child. Do writing groups become friendship groups too? Does judgment get clouded in those? Are they the best places to find an honest critical assessment of writing? I suspect that some are and some are not. There is the internet of course. There are groups on the internet. I have put a tentative paw around the door of some and have yet to find a group that I would feel comfortable with, a group that takes the business of writing for children seriously. I might find something one day. I do wonder about writing groups though. They are popular. They must serve a purpose. I wonder about them and then I wonder about professional expertise instead. Maybe I should just go on trying to write?


Sarah said...

I get so angry when I hear people say that writing for children is not 'proper' writing - and doubly angry when it's said by other writers. I think writing for children is much harder; after all, if an adult reads a dull book they'll probably put it down and read another but if a child loses interest they may very well not bother trying again. I know that's a generalisation and there are lots of other reasons why children do and don't read but I'm pretty sure children's writing not being 'proper' writing isn't one of them!

Anyway, rant over. Regarding writers groups, I have no experience of them, being far too new at this game to even think of it at the moment, but I suspect that a 'bad' writers group would be worse than no group at all. I think you're right to explore the possibilities but also wise not to join one that you don't feel comfortable with. The only thing I could think of to help would be recommendation - do you know any other children's authors whose judgement you trust who might be able to make suggestions?

I apologise for the wall of text. I very rarely comment and then when I do, it's an avalanche!

Anonymous said...

I am with you and with Sarah on this. I am never going to write a book - too lazy - but I look at the utter simplicity of some picture books and think "that must have been very hard to do". Good writing for children is almost certainly much, much harder to achieve than good writing for adults! Ros

widdershins said...

Ah-h... that 'literati' mentality ... as a SF writer I too have suffered the slings and arrows of outraged ignoramuses ... you were wise to escape from that poison as fast as you could... sounds like a bunch of wankers to me.

... I'm too much of a loner to get into crit groups, but I firmly believe in beta readers.
A beta reader is someone, or several someones who read your almost completely edited MS and offer constructive criticism... usually its a peer review process... You scratch my back and I'll review yours...

... this is before the submission process, but after you're fairly certain you've created the best damn piece of work you could. And like finding the right fit with a crit group, you gotta go with your instincts..

... Oh yeah, and keep on writing too :)

jeanfromcornwall said...

I can't comment on writing groups, but I can throw in an incident from way back. I had a six month old baby, and the Health Visitor thought I needed "me" time. She spotted my sewing machine and tried to compel me into dressmaking classes. It was hard work convincing her that I would wreck them for the tutor, and spoil them for everyone else with "I wouldn't do it that way." and "I do this the way professionals do it." I'm not noted for tact when I know I'm right.

So writers' groups would be fine if you feel the need, but worse than useless for you if you were to find yourself in the wrong one.

Neil said...

Martin Amis recently made the comment that he would write for children if he suffered an injury that left him with brain damage. That would appear to be a common misconception.

Far more readers have enjoyed Michael Bond's 'Paddington' books than have ever waded through Mr Amis' books.

Children have shorter attention spans and need to be held firmly by the author, unlike we adults who will often accept pages of padding.

It is much harder for adults to write for children -especially these days when they speak a different language to the rest of us.

I used to write stories for my brothers and sisters which have been saved by my sister. Her daughter has since read and enjoyed them, but I find it extremely hard to find that 'voice' that enabled me to write them when i was also a child.

I think anyone who can produce books that children actually want to read is every bit as much a 'proper writer' as anyone else who has produced a published piece.

Good luck with your search for honest readers.

catdownunder said...

Yes, definitely a strange idea that writing for children is not "proper" writing. It is as if children are not "proper" people!

Miriam Drori said...

I love my writing group. The members write different sorts of fiction, or true stories, including writing for children. The group is very friendly, but no one is afraid to give their honest opinions.

The only problem is that the group doesn't accept rewrites. So we have to do the rewrites on our own and write new stuff for the group at the same time. It can be hard to find time for everything.

Kate said...

What an odd sounding writing group.

I can't help thinking that unless you live somewhere with a dense population it's going to be hard to find a group that truly suits your needs. I was a member of one for a while but I've recently started to drift away.

Do do, however, belong to a very good online community - - which has a good number of children's wirters - published, unpublished and soon-to-be. Why not pop over and check it out.

Barb said...

Not a writing group so much, but a let's pretend we're a high-brow writing group.

Cat, I can highly recommend The Word Cloud:

Donna Hosie said...

Writing for a younger audience is far harder because your mistakes will be unforgiven.

Just be wary of online readers. An idea can be stolen as well as the words.