What "Level" Are You?

Sunday, July 17, 2011
At a writer networking event that I organize, I had a brief discussion with an attendee I'll call James. Although I kind of understand what James is requesting, I wanted to get your thoughts, dear reader, about levels of writers.

I arrange for speakers to attend a monthly meeting of regional writers. As you may remember from previous posts, the attendees had initially wanted to become a critique group. But I'm voluntarily arranging these meetings for a writers' organization that wants us to keep them open; a critiquing group would effectively close the meetings off from others in the public to join in and come to the meetings whenever they can.

James wants me to figure out a way to provide a networking "exchange" for writers and paid editors. He wants writers in this group to be able register and to self-rank themselves (beginner, intermediate, advanced OR amateur and professional). The registration enables the writer to get a different level of access to an editor and would serve to "network" various writers with one another. His belief, as an admitted amateur, James told me, is that beginning writers should be in a group with other beginners and amateurs with amateurs.

My gentle argument with James was that while I'm a published writer, I still consider myself an amateur (because I'm still trying to get my fiction published). Where did I fit into his levels idea? And, if we did manage to slot all the regional writers into a level, I would much rather be in a writers' critique group with writers who will challenge me, regardless of their self-reported level. Maybe others feel the same? I don't know.

What do you think about putting yourself into a "level" for your writing? And why? What kind of writers do you like to have in your critique group--ones just like you or a mixture? Why?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in Wilmington, N.C., and working towards her University of Chicago editing certification...in all her free time.


Keylocke said...

It's exceptionally hard to assess yourself or even others. I too am a published writer but with no fiction book deal (yet.)

In order to find people at my same level (which sounds terribly snobbish), I often ask these questions:

What do you write and what have you finished? (There are many, many writers who have started books and never finished. There is a certain level of wisdom you will never achieve unless you finish the book and turn around and edit it--several times.)

What conferences do you attend? (Of course, you can be published without attending but it's a valid sign of pursuing your craft.)

The answers to these questions will often reveal the general level of a writer's trajectory. But they can't answer anything about quality, genre, perseverance, etc.

That being said, even the most amateur of writers can be a helpful critique partners. We are all readers and any insight into plot holes, inconsistencies, motivation, etc. is supremely helpful.

Great post.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Keylocke, this is a great post. I haven't followed your previous posts, Elizabeth, but here's my 2 cents: I doubt that anyone with experience in writing workshop groups would take to the idea James proposes. As Keylocke pts. out, the intangibles--persistence, etc.--make categories like 'amateur' etc. extremely hard to pin down. Plus, given the opportunity to self-rank, you'll find ambitious writers of no particular talent billing themselves as 'professionals' because they have HAD the diligence to self-publish.

I teach a "beginners" creative writing workshop, and have met some amazingly talented folks poised to break into publication. James should trust his ability to hold his own in any group. Sink or swim--how we learn.

Myself, I want to be in group with people who write better than I do. I want to be in a group where people are better-published than I am, and who are willing to share their experience with me.

I did find such a group, and they turned me down because they weren't accepting new members.

C'est la guerre!

Hope Clark said...

I belong to two writers groups - both critique. We have a wide array of writers. One actually auditions writers to make sure someone is somewhat serious. The members do not have to be published, just want to be. The pace of the group eventually weeds out those who aren't serious. I like that speed. You critique two for every one you submit.

The other group is open to all. What I've seen happen is that those not serious, newbie or otherwise, bow out eventually. The others, from novices to published, have no problem helping each other. We respect each others' work, and believe me, an unpublished, new writer can open your eyes since he isn't tainted about what is expected of him. These groups have a way of settling themselves out.

For instance, I once joined a group where the attendees were very green. All but one wanted to write memoir. The work was rough. Without trying to sound pompous, I was heads and shoulders ahead of the average attendee. The sessions turned into "what does Hope think?" about everything - critiques, the writing environment, publishing, you name it. I had to leave. It turned into a Hope Consult, and I received no reward from it whatsoever.

All that said, I think groups settle themselves out. You need a good leader who is open to all sorts of personalities yet knows how to manage the group. Everything else will sort itself.

Hope Clark

Christine said...

I think that overall it is not a good idea for many reasons. It is too subjective to classify yourself as a writer. I think people's writing speaks for themselves no matter how much experience they may have. I also think that it adversely affects the creative process.

Christine said...

I think that overall it is not a good idea for many reasons. It is too subjective to classify yourself as a writer. I think people's writing speaks for themselves no matter how much experience they may have. I also think that it adversely affects the creative process.

the ghostwriter said...

I agree with Christine that we can only judge a writer by his writing... there are some fresh writers which can produce content as good as anyone. But I can't deny that experience also does matter at the end of the day.

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