Jeff Vandermeer had a post on Writers’ Groups, but focuses on how to pick a group that will stretch and develop your writing towards publication. It’s worth bearing in mind that groups with a more social focus can be useful too, providing you accept that they’re not going to help you get published. Here’s some tips on finding groups that are right for you.
1 Where is your Writing Career?
Make a list of where you want to go with your writing and what you are prepared to bring to a writers’ group. Do you want to be a published writer or are you writing for yourself? Are you starting out or have you already got work published? Bear in mind that as your writing develops and you achieve published status, you may outgrow the group you joined when you started out. That doesn’t mean you have to stop attending, just that different groups are appropriate to different levels of writers and you may find you need to join more than one.
2 What can you bring to the writing group?
Can you constructively criticise and give feedback on work by other writers? That means saying what a piece of writing’s strengths are, what the weaknesses are, what makes those sections weak and suggest improvements whilst at the same time appreciating that you are not the author of this piece of work and your suggestions may not be incorporated when the actual author edits their work. A group of semi-professional and professional writers will expect that level of engagement and if you want to be professional, that’s what you’re aiming for. A less ambitious group will tend to praise but not necessarily criticise: you’ll feel encouraged, but won’t get the necessary criticism to develop your work ready for publication.
3 Can you take constructive criticism?
It’s not easy when you’ve spent hours sweating over the placement of a comma or picking exactly the right phrase to accept someone else suggesting that there was a better option. But if you want to get published, better to have a friendly face give you some robust comments before your writing gets anywhere near an editor or agent, rather than run up numerous rejection slips because editors don’t have time to tell you that a minor change could transform a rejection into an acceptance. Most established writers will admit that the best advice they had when starting out was a sheet full of red ink from a respected mentor. Ego boosting “that was great” comments soon fade in the face of one rejection slip after another.
4 Take advantage of a free trial
Any writers’ group worthy of the name lets potential new members sit in on one group meeting for free. Take advantage: you’ll get a feel for how the group works, who the members are and whether it’s suitable for you. Find out whether group members have been published or not and, if so, where. Pay attention to the feedback given to members’ work – is it a critique-towards-publication or a bit vague and mostly positive? What do the members want to achieve with their writing? Do they concur with your own ambitions?
5 Be prepared to join more than one writers’ group
It may be that you find one friendly but uncritical group that makes you feel like part of a community, you find one critical group that will get you on the road to publication and another group that specialises in the genre you write in. You may find on-line writers’ forums useful too.