If You Want to Write, Don’t Barf on Your Readers

If you want your written word to appeal to others, you need one thing.

Readers.

But not just any readers.

You need a writing group.

If you’re unfamiliar, a writing group is friends or relatives, willing or locked in your basement, who critique your work on a regular basis. They will also hold you accountable for completing new work for them to appraise.

One of the hardest parts of writing for me and I think most people, is establishing a level of consistency.

It’s like working out. You need to do it enough that you establish a solid foundation. It’s why for so many people P90X turns into P12X.

And that’s what a writing group is perfect for. Imagine you knew Tony Horton was going to rip the covers off your bed and do squats on your chest until you went and worked out with him. I almost guarantee that if everyone received that kind of personal attention, there’d be a lot of slim guys and gals with confused muscles… or whatever he does to them.

Your writing group pushes you, doesn’t let you miss a week, doesn’t let you turn in a sorry excuse for a submission and demands you do better with every one.

Frankly, I sorely underestimated the power of a writing group. I have a pretty high opinion of myself and my writing and doubted the feedback would be useful. I have since recanted.

The problem is, the scenes you envision ONLY exist in your head. The backdrop is already set, characters are detailed and dressed appropriately (unless you are writing a nakie scene), their actions are effortlessly natural (unless you are writing a first time nakie scene).

Yet when you try to gather your thoughts on paper, you’ll miss things. Lots of things. And even when you re-read it, you’ll miss them again. Because you already know what is supposed to happen, the words you write supplement, rather than create, the scene.

Time for an extremely graphic and accurate analogy.

I just finished a delicious lunch consisting of a raspberry donut, a Rockstar, a burrito and a glass of raw milk. If Tony Horton burst through my kitchen wall and punched my stomach, I’d spew everywhere.

If a stranger then came and examined my sick, he’d have a lot of guesses at what I had just eaten. But they wouldn’t quite be right. To me, the bits and pieces of my rainbow yawn would paint a perfect picture of my diet, but only because I had the lunch menu to sort it all out.

A writing group is the compromise, the bystanders plugging their nose while pointing to the  milk carton, the empty Rockstar can and the jelly dripping from my fingers.

And that’s about enough of that analogy….

Basically, as I’ve mentioned before with character building, it’s your job to get things right for your reader and a writing group is the easiest way to accomplish that task.

Don’t make reader’s guess, don’t make them assume.

Don’t make them feel like they’re sifting through barf.

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122 Responses to If You Want to Write, Don’t Barf on Your Readers

  1. Nick says:

    I love your blog and wanted to let you know I nominated you for an award!!
    http://shittalkinnick.wordpress.com/2012/08/02/my-first-blogging-award/

  2. tarrtarr says:

    I think a lot of this depends on what type of writing one is hoping to accomplish. editorial writing is much different from something like a novel so I think a general public opinion (random survey maybe?) would be more effective in the former. I agree on the writing group for more formal writing.

  3. I was with a writing group by mail, the published and wannabees for a while. They were all very poliite and constructive until I insisted on having a whole opinion. Then they would say, “great, but … ” and I would get a deeper critique. Feedback is taught; it’s not natural. I suppose that’s why some muscles will always end up confused.

  4. I’ll never look at writing groups the same way. Thank you. 🙂

  5. Julia Swancy says:

    catchy title, entertaining, makes a point– excellent post!

  6. Congrats on the FB and I’m seriously shocked you’ve not had more posts by now.
    Because you deserve them.
    On another note, enjoyed the article and it got me thinking….do you happen to know on-;line groups like this? That aren’t full of angst-filled teenagers?
    I live abroad, and I’m just starting this writing journey now, in my 30s, but you raise a sound idea.

    • petermonaco says:

      Absolutely. Go to writeaboutdragons.com and there is a link up top that will link you up with to the main group page. There’s a broad range of submissions and you should be able to insert yourself into a group.

  7. Pingback: I’ve been nominated (subtitled, Pick me! Pick me!) | The Cotton Bowl Bride

  8. Nelson says:

    I’m new to blogging and this was a great fresh read! Thank you! I’ll definitely “stalk” you for more advice! haha! Congrats on being freshly pressed!

  9. The Hook says:

    I have to admit, your title is blogging gold! Great post too!

  10. If Tony Horton ever burst through my kitchen wall and punched me in the stomach, I’d have to have a serious discussion with him about personal boundaries (after I recovered from the punch), no matter how sub-par my writing was. A good face-to-face, spit-flying-from-the-mouth yelling at would be more acceptable than property damage and physical violence.

    • petermonaco says:

      But alas, that is not the Tony Horton way… Okay fine, I know nothing of the Tony. However, in my mind, his actions are veeerrry similar to the Kool Aid guy, just slightly more violent.

  11. Scriptor Hyacintho Oculos says:

    I agree, thanks for this precious thought!

  12. This was a very good and evocative piece and title (“evocative” is my best word, the one I unfortunately use most often for stories and articles I like). Just go look at Hemingway–he never barfed on his readers until “Across the River and Into the Trees,” which I think sucked. But especially in all those early Nick Adams stories, and in the stories and novels when he is describing (actual) eating and drinking, he still uses very few words, and yet I can taste it all myself. For example, when Nick Adams catches a fish, I totally forget how boring fishing with my father sometimes was (and how unsuccessful), and how messy it was to gut the fish, and all I remember is the very visceral and satisfying experience of eating a fresh-cooked fish outdoors right off the bone, and picking my teeth afterwards. Then, when he describes making buckwheat cakes in the skillet outside in the woods, I become equally forgetful that he leaves out the baking powder and oil and egg, and uses only buckwheat flour and water, dousing it with syrup later: I want to take it away from the character and eat it myself! I find I even empathize with his weird preference for eating apricots out of the can and drinking the syrup from that, though I eat almost no canned foods now. So I especially appreciate your paragraph which appears exactly under the stick-figure cartoon on this page: the writer already knows what is going to happen, but can’t simply supplement that, and must paint a picture for the reader, too–even using as few words as Hemingway! I also like to have readers critique me when I write, but so far, I’ve only had a few. I agree with you that it’s a very good idea, though (just to check one’s “evocation threshold”).

  13. rheavalente says:

    I can definitely see the benefits of a writing group when you put it like that! It does seem obvious – your characters and worlds are in your head, fully formed and in detail… but you dont realise just how much you miss out when you put them on paper until you crawl away from the desk and show people!

    • petermonaco says:

      Crawl indeed. Showing my work to people for critique is one of my big insecurities. What if it sucks? And no one likes it.. and they print it out just to burn it. It’s one of the reasons it’s taken me so long to create a blog.

      However, sometimes its okay to suck, as long as I keep trying not to.

  14. Sophia Jevone says:

    Thoroughly enjoyable blog! Thank you for sharing ❤

  15. Gotta get me a writing group..

  16. Kiya Krier - Runs With Blisters says:

    Ha! That is a hilarious analogy! I just found an amazing writing group, so hopefully they help me improve a lot…

  17. 8teen39 says:

    Congrats on being FP’d upon! I am glad I found you. Yours was just the push I think I needed. I am a lousy typist and, when I asked my mother to type my first novel for me, she returned it laughing at my writing. My dad, too. The damage parents unknowingly visit upon their children. And I was in my 30’s by then. Suffice it to say I have attempted but never completed another novel since- even though my wife insists I should. But she’s my wife. She has to say that. No? I am going right now to writeaboutdragons.com. And I plan on stalking you! Thanks again!

  18. Ruth2Day says:

    funny you should mention family as part of your writing group, I find my family are terrible for this. They are too close and it causes friction. Sort of like teaching your child to drive – recipe for disaster

    • petermonaco says:

      One thing I’ve learned is you simply gather the advice, offering no explanations or defense in return. Its like if you could duct tape your child’s mouth as you critiqued their driving… it at least gives the illusion that they are listening.

      • Yes, someone whose advice I value (though he wasn’t talking just about writing, I somehow suspect) said, “Try not to apologize: it makes you look weak.” Though I can still think of things I’d feel compelled to apologize for, I hear you saying something similar here. I.e., people will not only feel that you’re listening if you hold off on apologizing, but will assume you’re hardy enough to take the criticism–and maybe they’ll offer something more useful later.

      • Ruth2Day says:

        I like the thought of duct tape! actually not sure I should say that!! 🙂

  19. This really made me think have always loved writing but notoriously shy about actually showing it to anyone none of my friends/family even know I blog..any advice on just getting it out there?

    • petermonaco says:

      Funny you say that. I’ve only just barely told my family and friends about my blog. Seems like we have the same insecurity…. But you’ll be surprised at what people tell you.

      My advice is just to do it! Don’t even think about it. Write and email (thats what I did!), provide the link and let them have at it. You won’t regret it.

      • okay deep breaths and…sent to best friend ( whos always telling me to write more and too nice to say its crap )..thanks for the push…love your blog i want to write like you when i grow up if you had some spare time to have a read of mine and provide some feedback id be incredibly grateful

  20. 1 Year Recovery says:

    How do you suggest that one would go about finding a writing group? Any tips? FYI: this is my first time seeing your blog and I really enjoyed this post. I will be back to stalk and creep your upcoming and perhaps even your past work 🙂

  21. NderstoodU says:

    This is excellent. The thing I miss most from my degrees is writing workshops. That kind of feedback is very hard to find outside a writing group. Also, of course, congratulations on being freshly pressed.

  22. ejrunyon says:

    Next we need the blog about the fine line between telling your readers too much, and allowing your writing to evoke what you want them to see.
    I’ll be checking back in for that one.

  23. kthorpe says:

    Wow, thanks for this post. Really good advice 🙂

  24. Nakie?? Congrats on the FP!

  25. Haha I just wrote a post on editing for the sake of being compassionate for the readers. A lot of posts that I read do feel like someone is saying “Here’s a bunch of barf, but I swear, there’s something useful in it. Just keep digging and look at the pretty colors I made!”
    It’s great to remind people that yes, the reader matters, no matter how much fun it is to type without thinking. I’m looking forward to checking out the Write About Dragons site. Thanks 🙂

  26. gingeykate says:

    I love your analogies. Clever, witty and hysterically accurate in a weird way, haha.

  27. The Boy! says:

    “Because you already know what is supposed to happen, the words you write supplement, rather than create, the scene.”
    “Don’t make reader’s guess, don’t make them assume.”

    Words of experience-steeped wisdom. Very true. I do that sometimes, not for entire stories but on a smaller level: while completing sentences. Instead of, “I just ate,” I will say, “just ate,” and other such things. AS I writer I feel it does not make a big difference but as a reader I don’t appreciate it when writers cut corners like that. A man who always completed his sentences was Andy Rooney, and I admire him for it.

    • petermonaco says:

      You nailed it. Often times I’ve tried pretending I am a “reader” of my own work, but there’s no substitute for the real thing. A fun exercise I’ve tried is writing instructions to some mundane task like making a peanut butter and jelly sammich. You’d be surprised at how often you make assumptions and forget things, like taking the lid off of the jelly. Almost makes me forgive the writers of instruction manuals… ALMOST.

      • The Boy! says:

        Ha ha. So I should work at Home Depot before I become the next Thoreau… you know I think that is how Thoreau really did sort of start out.

  28. Great post. Congratulations on freshly pressed 🙂

  29. asoulwalker says:

    Well said sir, well said.

  30. thomlucci says:

    You may be a prolific writer, but you have many punctuation errors in this post. If I were to read a few of your stories and continued to see punctuation errors, you would lose me as a reader permanently.

    I am a retired print journalist.

    Good luck.

    • petermonaco says:

      Well– I”ll try to, keep you, away from my story’s!

      I guess I play the numbers game. If blogging was a college class, with content being 90% of my grade and punctuation the remaining 10%… I’ll take the A-.

      But thanks for the advice! Hopefully you’ll notice improvement if I can keep you around.

  31. Scribbler says:

    Great Post! I have always wondered if I give to much detail in my stories that I rarely consider that I am not giving enough!

  32. nhrafan says:

    I truly like this post. I have had a blog for quite a while but I rarely add any content simply because I have not disciplined myself to sit down and WRITE! I will look into joining a writing group so that maybe I can find some people that will hold me accountable and provide some feedback for my postings! Thank you for a well thought and concise article.

  33. I have just returned to writing after a 20+ year hiatus; it took me that long to get up the courage to go back to fiction writing after a couple of particularly bad experiences in writing groups. But after completing NaNo last year, I discovered I enjoy writing, and if nobody reads it, it’s their loss! I’m considering adding a blog of my fiction pieces just to get it out there. But I digress. Your blog is awesome with great advice. I’ll be back for more!

    • petermonaco says:

      I bow to you. Completing a NaNo is awe worthy in my book. I don’t care if your 50,000 words are gibberish; congratulations!

      Similar to P90X, NaNoWriMo for me turned in National Paragraph Writing Day. I hope to do as well as you on the next attempt.

  34. Congratulations making freshly pressed!

  35. bellesogni says:

    Your post couldn’t be more spot-on and graphic even if you substituted “shit” for “barf”.

  36. Urell Odama says:

    I’m not alone after all. After reading all the comments above including your replies, I felt I’m in the same water as most. I am frustrated with myself for not being able to complete a story (a story worth publishing much less reading) even though I believe I can write – but that’s just in my own head, of course, and no other head is nodding. When I read a story, I’d say to myself, hey I can do that too! Then I’d read another, and …ooohh, no way I can write like that. That kills me. But thanks to blogging, there’s a ray of encouragement to put words on, shall we say… screen.

    I’m glad I found you, Peter, I’ll follow you too.

    • petermonaco says:

      I think like you said, everyone goes through what you’ve described. I’ll be discouraged at times when reading another’s superior work or see how far along they are in their story. But don’t let it kill you, just realize that no one can write the way YOU do.

  37. I’m thinking those people are locked in the basement because they feel like barf targets. I’m also thinking I’ve barfed on serveral people. Are or aren’t those people a cliche. Perhaps the only means of egress from the pool is through the same mania.

  38. jeuteneuer says:

    I would definitely join a writing group if it weren’t for all those annoying people who keep criticizing my work.

  39. Tony Horton? The Canadian doughnut guy?

  40. fairydancer221 says:

    Reblogged this on Cat on Bookshelf and commented:
    I do like writing. I also know that I should ask people to read my writing. After reading this, I will think about rejoining a writers’ group I was in.

  41. Jane says:

    Good critique: “Your poem is well-written, nice alliteration and tasty, yet I think you could do such-and-such to improve this-or-that.”
    Bad critique (from a colleague in a poetry workshop): “I thought your poem was juvenile.”

    Guess what I’m trying to say is some critiques are more effective than others. As far as your post is concerned, you nailed it. Congrats! 🙂 Jane

  42. rachelsims3 says:

    I enjoyed this post a lot. Hopefully that’ll teach more bloggers to be consistent about their work. I know I have a problem with it myself sometimes.

  43. Liza says:

    Great advice… Now a stalker 😉 congrats on being FP!

  44. Evelyn says:

    While I don’t agree with the reasoning that everyone needs a writing group, (I’m my own worst critic so I have no idea how many times I redraft before I ever press that SEND button) that is definitely the best analogy I have ever read. Keep up with your great imagination. Perhaps you should try out for a comedic commentary at your local newspaper. Good luck on your first T.V. series ! ; )

  45. rainbowheartlove says:

    I wrote a “book” but I don’t know if it is any good. It didn’t win the Guideposts contest but they are trying to get some of us to self-publish with them. They have a self-publishing arm called Inspiring Voices. I just don’t know if my story is any good. It seems interesting to me when I read it but I don’t know. I wanted the characters to mature throughout the story. But, I didn’t want it to be forced or finagled in any way. I can’t tell if I have done that or not. Maybe I should try to have a writing group read it or something. I don’t know…l Ramble Ramble…

  46. Nice blog to keep me checking on my writing. Maybe I will develop a writing group after all. I know what is in my head, but I don’t know that I am writing it well….

  47. ubnrfh says:

    In my personal experience, my readers actually enjoy sifting through my gastrointestinal upheaval. Then again, I always drink a bottle of Goldschlager before I drink, and my audience is mostly made up of 1840s miners.

    Anyways, good advice, and well-presented.

  48. Hannah says:

    Tried P90X– threw up half way through P1X. But you’re so right about consistency in both your own work, and the feedback you get from a quality willing (or enslaved) audience.

  49. susielindau says:

    I love your analogy! Before I read it, I thought it was about bloggers who spew just to fulfill a promise to themselves that they will blog every day for a year. Every day.. a year….. that’s a lot of blogs.

    Sometimes, I lock my husband in the basement with my work. He has a good critical eye. After I am done ranting about how perfect my draft was, I always rewrite. 🙂

    Do you recommend having a group look at chapters as you write your book or do you finish it up and then send it out?

    • petermonaco says:

      You give me too much credit. No book for me yet! However, I view the writing group as more of a check up. I give them scenes I’ve had difficulty with or scenes where I was looking for a particular reaction and see if their critiques match what I was trying to accomplish. However, if you have a chained up husband at your disposal, give him the whole thing. It’s how I roll with my wife.

      • susielindau says:

        No pun intended I’m sure! Hahaha!
        (Sorry. just got back from a 15 hour road trip that started at 2:30 AM!)
        I think I will give it to him and see what he says!
        Congrats on your FP!

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