Writing Group Insider
Updated: Mar 8, 2021
Kathie McMahon is the author of the Mortimer and Me middle-grade series. She has been involved with writing groups for over ten years and she kindly shared her thoughts about the support writers should expect to get and give in critique partnerships:
Q: Has your writing changed since joining a writing group?
A: Definitely! I’ve found that each person in the group has something different to offer. One person may focus on word repeats and sentence structure, while someone else is more concerned about the wants and needs of the main character or the plot arc.
Q: When you have a deadline to distribute work, are you more motivated to keep writing?
A: Having a set schedule definitely keeps me writing. If I know I have to submit at a certain time, I’ll sit down and get something out of my brain and onto paper. Unfortunately, sometimes it may be garbage, but at least it’s a start to get me going in the right direction. I think the members of my group usually understand that what I’m giving them is not anywhere near polished – I hope so anyway!
Q: Have you been able to break through writer's block with the help of your writing group?
A: I don’t usually have a problem with writer’s block, but with my current WIP I knew I had to start over from the beginning, and I didn’t know how to do that. Both of the groups I’m involved with helped immensely by being brutally honest.
Q: What's the most important feedback you have gotten from your writing group?
A: Early on in my writing, I used to go back and revise what had just been critiqued and then present the revised version the next time. What I learned is there is always something that needs to be revised! One friend finally told me, “Just keep writing your book. Don’t go back and change anything until you’re done – just finish it!” So I did that, and when I got to the end, I realized that much of what I wrote at the beginning wasn’t going to work. So I learned to not try and revise what might be completely thrown out anyway by the time you’re finished.
Q: How hard is it to critique someone else's work?
A: As a retired teacher, I’m used to “correcting things.” I think the hardest part is to not get too picky about things like grammar and spelling and focus on the writing instead. And also to be sure and balance positive things with the negative.
Q: How do you know when a writing group is right for you?
A: It’s a process. I’m currently with an online group from around the country (and Canada). We’ve been together for over ten years. Obviously our journeys have differed and lives changed. We’re all about the same age and share the same values, which is good, but I sometimes get frustrated when they either have little to say or don’t “get” what I’m trying to say. My new group has some younger members, so I get a different perspective. We’re still getting to know each other and our styles of writing, so that presents challenges sometimes.
Q: Have you ever been uncomfortable with someone's comments?
A: Haha! I say I want honesty, but then I find myself defending what I wrote. I generally follow the rule of thumb that if someone wants me to make a certain change that I’m resisting, if he/she is the only one that feels that way, it’s up to me to decide whether or not to consider that suggestion. But if two or more make the same observation, it’s time to take another look at it.
Q: If you belong to more than one writing group, how do you balance your time between them?
A: I’m finding that to be a bit tricky, but my new group has finally settled in to a set schedule that seems to be working, so that helps. What I find the most challenging is trying to get the critiques done in a timely manner. I keep a separate folder for each group, and I have to make sure not to get them mixed up! I did send a critique to the wrong group one time, but I stay on top of it most of the time! And both groups are very forgiving when something comes up that interrupts the schedule.
Mortimer and Me, Mortimer and Me: the Bigfoot Mystery and Mortimer and Me: Moose for Hire are available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Bookshop.com. Kathie is working on two more middle-grade novels. novels now. To find out more about her and her books, you can reach Kathie at: https://www.kathiemcmahon.com/