Should you join a writing group? In the interest of full disclosure, as of this writing, I’m a member of three different groups.
“Jesus, Mike. Say yes much?”
Yeah, yeah. I know. It seems like a lot of groups. It is, but I’m getting something a bit different from each group. To answer the question, “Should I join a writing group?” I have to answer – it depends.
“Brilliant. That’s all you’ve got?”
Stick with me! I’ve created this handy-dandy Writing Group-O-Matic decision tree to help you figure it out.
One of the many things I’m trying to focus on in writing (and in life) is doing things intentionally. I don’t think I’ve done that as often as I should have. The question we need to ask ourselves is, “What do we want to get out of a writing group?” If you don’t go into a new group with clear intentions, you may be giving up valuable writing time and not get much out of it.
Here’s a completely incomplete list of reasons to join a group:
- You want to get your work critiqued to improve your stories or technique
- You want to meet other writers in your area and talk about writing
- You want a group to motivate you and help hold you accountable
- You want to practice writing
- You want to start building thick skin in anticipation of sending your work into the wild, cruel world
- You’re an established writer that wants to give back to the community
Many groups will hit a couple of the buttons I listed above but a good group should do at least one. Ask yourself what you’re looking for and the interview a group to see if they’re going to make it worth your time. In the short time I’ve been doing this, I’ve noticed that a fair portion of the new old writers (like me) aren’t really interested in the intentional aspects of being part of a group. Many seem to be looking to tell their story and get validation. While I think that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to want, a writers group – especially a critique group – is not the place for affirmation.
If you’re in a major metropolitan area, it should be relatively easy to find a group. I’ve decided that my campaign for world domination will start in Kansas City and it was surprisingly easy to find groups all over the place. If I wanted to, I could fill every evening of every day of the week with writers group meeting and still not even get to 10% of the ones I have found online.
If you’re not in a big city, you may have a tougher time. I don’t know much about online groups since I haven’t had the need to seek them out. I’m sure there are some good ones out there but they don’t hit the mark for me. I love the face to face nature of all the groups I’m in and I’m sure that an online group wouldn’t work as well for me.
The first place to check for a writer’s groups in your area is your local library. In five minutes I was able to find several groups that were active and honestly, I just picked one at random. The next best place that I’ve found groups is on Meetup.com. The group that I joined had a small annual fee ($12 a year) to cover administration. It has been, far and away, the best site to find passionate writers in my area and I can’t recommend it enough.
When I went to my first writer’s group in October of 2016, I didn’t know what to expect. Frankly, I was terrified. I thought it would be glaringly apparent that I wasn’t a real writer and I was sure that I would get a cool yet polite welcome. I imagined the real writers rolling their eyes and silently hoping I wouldn’t return. Unsurprisingly, my worst case scenario was completely wrong. I was warmly welcomed by the meeting’s host and was able to observe or participate at levels I felt comfortable with. It was a phenomenal experience and I got to meet poets and journalists, new writers and published authors. I was almost immediately able to see some of the changes I needed to make to my own writing.
One thing I don’t cover in the Writing Group-O-Matic is whether the group is open or closed. An open group allows new members. Closed is, well, closed.
Open groups, in my experience, are bigger. They also have a rather itinerant membership. These are great ways to get to meet writers in your area and find new critiquers that you gel with. They’re not the place to get a novel critiqued unless you have a few chapters you really need help with. Often times, the open groups can spawn closed groups.
Closed groups are generally smaller and have a more stable membership. This kind of writing groups will get you consistent feedback from week to week and is really the only way to get a larger work critiqued in a reasonable amount of time. My favorite of all groups is a closed group that formed open one. This secret cabal of super-talented, super-focused writers is really what’s keeping me going at the moment.
Wishing you all the best in 2018. Unless you’re a tool.