Since novelists spend a lot of time in isolation tapping away on keyboards creating new worlds, having any sense of perspective about our work is a constant struggle. For me, one effort towards this end is to be part of a writer's group. There are all sorts of different groups, and I've tried a few.
I've been in groups where writers socialize and have speakers talk about writing. These groups are great for networking, encouragement, and gaining insights about issues of concern to writers. I went to one such group last night, VillageWritingSchool.
Other groups I've participated in consist of writer's socializing briefly, then reading their work aloud to the group who then claps. Often a couple dozen participants or so - from a pool of many more - show up each time, and the group meets once a month. Usually, because of the group size, reading is kept to under five minutes. There's a lot to be said for getting your work out there on this level. For writer's who are newly introducing their work to the public this can feel like a safe way to do it, and some writer's do not like to be influenced by feedback early on in the creative process. A group like this I've started going to lately is Howl Women's Open Mic. I also frequently go to Poet Luck at Writer's Colony at Dairy Hollow.
My favorite groups though, are those that consist of 6 - 12 regular participants, meet on a regular basis two to four times a month. Writer's read their work aloud, and feedback is strongly encouraged. In these groups, feedback is in the form of encouragement/praise and constructive criticism (emphasis on constructive). When critiquing fellow participants' work fellow writers usually say what they liked best about what was read and then give suggestions on what could maybe be improved or clarified.
These groups give writers perspective on their work, provide people who are going to notice if they've been writing or not, keep writer's from being lazy about what they do write. Knowledge about grammar, publishing, plotting etc is also bantered about. Frequently, a word or phrase is thrown out each meeting as a suggested writing prompt for inspiration.
I've been fortunate enough to have belonged to two such groups. One was on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. We met in the back room of a restaurant (we had a view of boat docks), there was no charge for the room and the group was free. The man who started it was our first moderator, he would just keep us on topic and make sure everyone got to read. I became the second moderator (and was nicked named Margret Thatcher for keeping everyone focused on writing and not everything else under the sun). It was through this group that I got my first paid writing job. A local weekly paper, about all things boating, approached the group looking for a new reporter - I jumped on board without hesitating. The second group I belonged to was in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where I still live. We met at a writer's retreat Writer's Colony at Dairy Hollow, which provided a free space for us and again the group was free. We also had a moderator, which changed a number of times. This group disbanded some time ago, but many of us are still in contact. Though the group consisted mainly of writer's who had not been published much, I'm very proud to be able to say that since the group's demise, one of the writers, Iris Jones Simantel, had the book she'd been working on, Far From the East End, win a contest which led to getting it published in print, and becoming a top seller. Sweetly, she gave those of us in the group a nod of gratitude in her acknowledgments. She's now published a second book, GI-Bride, and another writer in our group, Woody Barlow, just e-published his novel, Tarzan-wore-Chaps.
The group was extremely encouraging in convincing me that there is an appreciative audience for my novel, "Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe," so now it's time for me to get my work out there!