People often ask about the value of membership with writing organisations, belonging to writing groups and entering competitions. For me, it’s like this ...

Writing Organisations
This is where I hit the jackpot! Organisations such as those in the links page of this site provide many things. Besides informative articles, generally forthcoming in regular newsletters, they advertise courses, workshops, competitions and festivals and keep me in touch with what is happening in the writing world. This keeps me inspired, helps me stay on track with achieving my goals and they care about me as a writer. They've been around a long time and will be here while ever people make use of their services. I think no writer can truly operate as an island and feel we need writing organisations and they need us, so I support them!

Writing Groups
Also known as critique groups, these can be valuable in giving me an opportunity to hear responses to my work from a reader’s point of view. One reason some people choose not to use them is that they find it tricky to know which feedback to take on board and which to disregard. The ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ of writing are subjective but I feel it is important to open myself up to feedback. It helps me learn and grow. The simplest way to work out what elements of feedback are valid is to ask the person giving feedback to point out the parts of the work that gave rise to their opinion. Having someone point out words, phrases and character action and dialogue that gave them a particular impression helps me rework or fine tune material to increase the chances of readers absorbing it as I wish them to. Likewise, this sort of questioning can show when I’ve neglected to give readers enough to help them feel the story as I hope they might.

Things to think about with critique groups
Setting a time and meeting place, sticking to it and turning up with something to work on shows commitment to growing as a writer. While at times it may be difficult to bring material, bringing ideas for brainstorming keeps me moving forward. By committing to working on the material my critique partners bring, I practise analysing stories from a reader’s perspective. Discussing with other writers what their intention was and pointing out words, phrases, action and dialogue (or lack of same) that brought me to specific conclusions means I learn to analyse writing in a way that also helps my skill base grow.

Writing Competitions
Writing for publication means I must always keep readers in mind. One way to guarantee that my work falls into readers’ hands is to send it to competitions. People who run competitions are avid readers and in a great position to comment on my work, especially in comparison to the work of others. This is important because, in addition to established authors, those I’m up against in competitions are my competition when seeking publication. Gaining places and positive feedback in competitions gives some indication of where I’m at in terms of achieving my goal. What’s more, competition feedback helps me see how my story was perceived from a reader’s point of view rather than a writer’s. That's useful in helping me learn my strengths and weaknesses—essential pieces of knowledge to continued learning. Writing competitions are a gift! Make use of them.

Some competitions are fairly inexpensive. Some have substantial entry fees. My advice is to assess what your entry fee pays for. If it means feedback in the form of a reader report specific to your entry, it can be well worth entering. If it promises a possibility of publication in an anthology, base your decision on the publisher’s reputation and the entry fee. Some competitions with little credibility have been known to produce anthologies only after enough entrants commit to purchasing copies. I never enter these.

© Copyright Emma Cameron