Writing groups offer benefits, one of which can be a handy source of beta readers. The term (which comes from the software industry) refers to people who are not professional readers, such as proofreaders and editors, but ordinary word lovers. They often come after the writer has reworked a piece, and they report on how the work interests them or not.
Richard Balaban of Bloomington runs two groups of writers, one in Florida, the other locally. He calls the latter Bloomington Writers, and they’ve been meeting every two weeks for the past year and a half.
“If you write well,” he said on a FaceTime call, “you’ll have kind of a visceral impact on the reader.”
Confidentiality is the only thing Balaban is strict about. The members give each other courteous and united feedback but never divulge, outside the group, the personal aspects of the works.
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“We reflect on our long lives, and it quickly became clear to me that we have to depend on the integrity of the members.”
He first organized writing groups to find support for a book he was working on about his father.
“Then we became a support group.”
Balaban’s father, with a sad and difficult childhood behind him, helped raise Balaban without telling him much about the Ohio orphanage that raised him (Balaban’s father). It was then called Cleveland’s Jewish Orphan Asylum. In 1868, what had been Dr. Seeyle’s water sanatorium was renamed the Jewish Orphan Asylum. By 1900, 80 residents had grown to 400.
“Dad never told me about it. Balaban later accompanied his father to a meeting there. “Who was this man who was my father and who had such a different childhood from mine?”
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He also wonders how his father’s life affected his.
Seeing Balaban discussing his father is also sad and difficult. He struggles, sighs and waits for words.
“In our groups, we share emotional and volatile material.”
The members want some feedback, but they hope they will come nicely, as it seems to have been the case so far. Maybe it’s because Balaban is a mental health professional, or maybe he’s sweet, funny, and calming.
“We always ask band members’ what kind of feedback do you want? “”
Writing groups provide structure, in the form of deadlines, accountability to other members, and this opportunity to be – lightly – criticized.
“We have been very careful in bringing up political matters.” The group contains both conservative and liberal people.
Most of the Bloomington group are new writers, although one, Carolyn Geduld, is a seasoned word trainer and has published two books, perhaps thanks in part to the group.
Her second novel, the Jewish fantasy “Who Shall Live”, is up for pre-order on amazon.com, with a release date in November. It is about a little girl abducted from a Jewish community in a small college town in Indiana.
Geduld’s first, “Take Me Out the Back,” opens with The Maintenance Man, caring for his beloved mother with dementia. He follows the advice she has often given to her family: if the madness of old age strikes her, please, please, “just take me out the back door and shoot me.” above “.
“How I would like to say I find all the reviews useful,” she said. “I do it, in the group, because it’s so nice. But because I’m published, I have to endure negative reviews on Amazon and other sites.”
She admits that facing such criticism comes from being a published author. And of course, she criticizes herself.
“I usually think I just wrote the best thing since Shakespeare, until I read it the next day.”