In this month's #UKRomChat Column, Eilidh K. Lawrence talks to us about attending a writers' group and how to engage with feedback.
Welcome lovely romance fans. Right now I’m clapping my hands and jumping up and down because the #RomInAFlash writing contest entries have just arrived in my inbox. The winning entry will be published right here next month. So come back! This month I’ve put my serious hat on to discuss the pros and cons of joining an in-person writers’ group plus I’ll be giving you a roundup of our most recent chats.
Too Boldly Go... To a Writers’ Group
Writers are brave all the time. We are brave the very first time when we show something we have written voluntarily to another person, whomever they are. We are brave when we share blog posts online or put a story up on Wattpad. We are brave when we enter contests, submit to publishers and query agents. Sharing our work in all these ways takes courage.
If we are to improve as writers, we need to seek feedback, and this is scary. The first time I submitted a piece of fiction to a publisher, a single chapter, I did it specifically for the feedback, and the only eyes that had seen it beforehand were those of my best friend. When the response turned out, unexpectedly, to be a full manuscript request I realised I needed to find other writers to critique the story as it progressed. At that point I hadn’t built up friendships with writers online and I wasn’t a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. I tried a matching website for critique partners and although I did find someone one to swap my chapter with, it didn’t work out.
So I tried a writers’ group, an in-person one. I found the mixed-genre, mixed-literature-type group on Meet Up and I followed the rule that you had to attend at least one meeting before submitting. I went by myself. Gulp. It was in a bar and the group was busy, with maybe 20 attendees. I’m not going to lie, I was terrified. I find public speaking quite difficult, so in a way, giving feedback can be more difficult for me than receiving it. The group doesn’t go around the table or anything, people contribute in no particular order. You basically just have to dive in when there’s a pause. There were a few pieces. The submissions are always emailed round in advance. I didn’t have the confidence to jump in at the start, but the longer I waited, the more nervous I got. When I contributed, I remember knowing that it was coming across how nervous I was. I have an inherent tremor in my hands that becomes much more prominent when I’m nervous, and my voice can get shaky too. Being aware of these things just makes them worse, but I had things to say and I managed to say them.
At that first meeting, no one was savaged, the feedback was useful and people hung about afterwards to drink and chat. They seemed like a decent group so I went ahead and submitted. Sitting there receiving my feedback was a challenging experience. It was a tough crowd. A lot of people just didn’t like romance and weren’t afraid to say so. One person completely got the wrong end of the stick and thought my Amish-raised character was sitting with her bishop talking about having an abortion. She started her feedback with, “I don’t know anything about the Amish but” (excellent) then went off on a five-minute rant about how the bishop should have reacted. That’s the most frustrated I’ve ever been at the group. There’s a rule that the writer can’t say anything at all till the end, when all the feedback has been given. No one stepped in and stopped her. But overall, I got some good notes. In fact, one piece of feedback led to a favourable comment from an RWA chapter contest judge. And I went back and changed a couple of words so that no one else, ever, could get my heroine so wrong!
I still go to the group, on and off. I think critiquing, as well as being critiqued, makes us better writers. The thing I get most out of going to an in-person group, is hearing the crits other people give the submissions. Plus I really like some of the people. I enjoy the social part of the evening. I’m in touch with a few people outside of the group and have exchanged some crits by email. There’s only been one other romance writer at the group, and sadly she didn’t come back. But I find general crits from writers outside the genre useful. Some people do like my stories, even though they wouldn’t normally read them. One said my submission, ‘made her feel warm inside.’
And I’ve read a lot of stuff I wouldn’t normally read. The downside is that there can be a lot to read, which is time-consuming, especially as I can’t help but give detailed notes. Reading everything isn’t mandatory but I get through as much as I can. I’d feel guilty otherwise.
Generally, I haven’t experienced the kind if snobbery I might have expected about my genre. People can dislike like something, and still be respectful and constructive. But there is one person, more recently, who’s shown disdain for my writing, romance novels and my choice to write romance novels. That’s tough and annoying and has made me more wary.
This piece has turned out more serious in tone than I expected. I guess I’ve painted a pretty mixed picture. A realistic one, I hope. I’m not very thick-skinned, I take things to heart and I’m not great in groups. That sounds like a lot of writers! In spite of these things, I get enough out of my writers’ group to keep going back, but only if my head’s in the right place. I’d say the idea of going along before you submit is a good one. Suck it and see...?
April at @UKRomChat
Our first guest of the month was award-winning author, Pink Heart Society Assistant Editor and #RomInAFlash judge Robyn Rychards. Robyn talked about her latest release, Dancing with the Best Man (cue dancing GIFs), her romantic suspense series Louisina Hearts (featuring hot police detectives) and being a hybrid author. She told us about the benefits of writing contests. Entering gives you confidence and can get your work in front of an editor or agent. Judging gives you the chance to read things you might not otherwise and get a sneak peek of stories that might make it big. Plus it’s fun! And we discovered everybody loves forced proximity! On HEAs? Robyn likes, “the challenge of blowing everything up, then trying to put it all back together so [her] hero and heroine can have their happy ending.”
Next up was Romantic Novel Award (RoNA) finalist Liam Livings, who writes gay romance featuring friendships, British humour and plenty of sparkle! We talked about his latest novel, 90s-set Love on the Dancefloor and reminisced about 90s hair and fashion, and life before smartphones. There was a whole 90s crush spin-off thread. Liam talked about the importance of conflict and putting “ALL THE OBSTACLES in the way of LOVE.” He told us about ‘headlights plotting’ where he plots, then writes, then plots then writes, in sections, so he only knows what’s happening just in front of what he’s writings. Liam closed by telling us he likes to spread some “love and light” in what he writes, and who doesn’t want a little of that in their life? The chat was fab-u-lous.
Bestselling Fantasy Romance author C. L. Wilson, one of Lucy F’s favourite authors, was our June guest and Lucy was just a little bit excited! C.L. talked about her latest novel, The Sea King and how important it is to her to create worlds that feel inclusive. She told us what she enjoys about writing series and how writing new books in a series can feel like, “heading home to visit dear friends and family.” She gave loads of great advice on including magic (make it an essential part of the story), wordbuilding (include details, tie your world into the plots and your characters’ lives, ask ‘What do these people value most?’) timeline tracking (C.L. uses Aeon Timeline) and coming up with character names (read phonebooks!) The chat flew in!
As I write, we’re all counting the days till our final chat of the month, like kids desperately waiting for Christmas. We’ll be welcoming back Sandy Barker, one of our very favourite people. Debut Avon Books author Sandy is a longstanding friend and supporter of #UKRomChat. We’ll be chatting with Sandy about her book One Summer in Santorini (on its release day – squeal!) plus happiness, travel, and working with her agent Lina Langlee, who she met through #UKRomChat!
I’ll say it again, you really must check out the August issue when we’ll be publishing the winning story from our #RomInAFlash writing contest. Set yourself a reminder for 7 August! At the time of publication, our next chat will be on 15 July when Julie Cohen and Liam Livings will be telling us about the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Rainbow Chapter, formed for members who identify as LGBTQIA+, are writing novels featuring LGBTQIA+ characters, or who are interested and wish to learn more. Please note there is no chat on 8 July.
You can find the #UKRomChat team on Twitter as @UKRomChat, and get information about upcoming guests on their Facebook page and Instagram feed.