Last night I spent a lovely evening visiting the Angus Writers’ Circle.
I’d first met some of the Circle back in March, when I attended the Scottish Association of Writers’ Annual Conference. They were such a supportive group, cheering on each others’ efforts as the prizes were announced. They did particularly well at that conference!
Well, last night I had the opportunity to meet them at one of their twice-monthly meetings, and had the privilege of adjudicating a feature-writing competition.
I had to pick six winners from 17 entries.
It wasn’t an easy job. They’d all told really interesting stories, ranging from the dogs that served during the World Wars to the real-life story of actress Hedy Lamarr.
Before I got stuck into all that, though, the members took it in turns to share their news.
Some had nothing to report this time, whereas others had made progress on their work, or had visited the Edinburgh Book Festival. Almost every statement was greeted by a warm round of applause, and I began to understand how important it could be for a writer to join a group.
Working in isolation as a freelancer, or just simply outside of the office environment that we enjoy, must leave writers missing out on that valuable feedback from like-minded and talented people.
Obviously it’s a great reason to join in on one of our workshops, if you get a chance.
But it’s also well worth finding out if there are any groups in your area — as Lucy explained in this blog last year.
I picked winners in a range of categories:
- best entry by a new member of the Angus Writers’ Circle
- highly commended
- then 3rd, 2nd and 1st place
You know how I could tell I’d made the right choices?
Once the entrant had read out their piece, the room would come alive with people discussing it and asking questions. That’s pretty much the same measure we use to judge the success of a feature in the office here.
If it makes you want to talk about it — if it makes us want to talk about it in the office — it’s a promising sign!
Use that as a yardstick when you’re unsure if a feature you’ve written is worth submitting.
If you read it to a friend or family member, does it ignite a conversation? It should.
As I told the group last night, a good feature is a combination of a few things. But at its heart is a great story worth sharing.
Don’t stifle it with facts. Keep the notions of pace and structure in your mind as you would with fiction, and give it life with plenty of humanity and emotional resonance.
Writing can be an isolating hobby — and it probably should be. I think it’s very hard to write anything good collaboratively.
Goodness knows the number of Hollywood films with unremarkable by-the-numbers scripts that have come out of too-large writer’s rooms.
But it doesn’t mean the whole process has to be a solo endeavour. So, join a group and get some feedback and input.
Who knows, I might even see you there one day!
For more from Alex, read his blog here.