the benefit of professional speculative groups

This last weekend was When Words Collide, which reminds me of the 1998 con where I met my aunt for the first time. After knowing her my whole life, of course. I had been up all night on a Greyhound bus, going from a two-week summer camp hosted by one of my very best uni friends and I was up there teaching Japanese and the next morning I was let out at Downtown Calgary, where I walked into my first speculative Con.

And realized I was just a lost swan because I had found my writer people who got my weirdness and encouraged it in every way. But even more, I regained an aunt I didn’t know I had. My aunt had always been Ann the Aunt, who sometimes showed up for Christmas and summers but we weren’t exceptionally close.

But I saw this short little, red-headed lady and despite not seeing Ann for more than a decade I caught her attention and told her she might be my mom’s sister.

She assured me she was.

And I found my family inside my community. I was home. Writing groups attract professional writers because writing is a pay-it-forward economy. I can’t thank all the people who told me I was wrong when I was the know-it-all kid. I can’t thank them for all the time they spent trying to explain why I was wrong.

Rob Sawyer has always been a friend of IFWA, and he’s always been a friend to me. Not every writer can turn to Rob and ask if a major change has to be made in the history of the events that have already happened to make the current story better, should the change should always be made? It seems like an obvious question but the idea of it still hurt somehow. He told me he’d had trouble changing what was for what could be, too.

But the first time my entire writing group had given me nothing but the same piece of advice, I could turn to Rob and ask him what he thought. The more I learned how to make the mystery of the plot more a part of the plot itself, the more I was starting to be told I needed to tell more information so the reader would understand more.

And I could not be more sure the opposite was true. I was open to the idea I hadn’t learned how to keep the suspense of what the reveal will be yet, but the writing I wanted to do was in the opposite direction.

I wanted to hold even more back, so the reader would keep reading. So I asked Rob again, when do you know you haven’t explained enough. If he said the end of the book, and I believed him. But the more I wanted to talk about how writing can work as a deliberate act, the more I kept hearing people teaching if you meant to do it it’s fine.

I think I started this blog as the person I could talk to about writing at the level I wanted to discuss it at. Within a few years of starting this blog, ‘there are no rules’ had completed its hostile takeover across critique tables everywhere.

As early as 2014, the idea that conflict might be something important to have in works of commercial fiction was decried as an outdated, non-workable pedagogical approach. But even still, the social benefits of a good writing group outweigh the cons just for the community you have at the ready.

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