View Full Version : writers groups - a good idea?

04-08-2011, 02:53 PM
So, there's this local writers group meeting in the library. I'm thinking of joining them next week. But I'm also thinking will they be honest and will they be into the same kind of writing as me? Will I fit in?

I'm getting cold feet already. Does anyone have experience, good or bad, of writers groups out there in the real world?

Caitlin Black
04-08-2011, 02:59 PM
No experience whatsoever, sorry.

Good luck with it. :)

04-08-2011, 03:00 PM
I think it's good. Sometimes gives you different ways of looking at writing, and you get to meet other would be or published authors.

04-08-2011, 03:07 PM
I haven't been involved in any "live" writers groups, only online. But that's mainly because I don't do well 'in person' - I don't think fast on my feet, and tend to get pushed into agreeing with things I don't really want to do, etc. Online, I have the option of sitting back, thinking about what was said, and then deciding (not to mention having the intimidation factor removed). I'd also worry about 'group think' being more of a factor in a live group; definitely possible in online groups as well, but much easier to recognize and bow out of those ;)

But you need to try out the group first, see what the people are like, if their attitude toward writing is similar to yours, if they're willing to be honest, etc.

04-08-2011, 03:08 PM
Got to be worth a try. I keep meaning to go to the local one here, but I keep forgetting. :tongue

04-08-2011, 03:35 PM
There is a certain amount of networking that can happen with a real life group, which can be good, and different voices in critique are always welcome! The downside is that there will most likely be mixed genre writing to examine and of course there's people there... and depending on how long that group has been together, it may take several visits to understand their collective language and personality. Just try to make sure that the group members are people who actually want to be writers, and not a group of people who just enjoy wanting to be writers... I'd give it a try, and you'll know rather quick from the experience if it's something you want to do.

04-08-2011, 03:59 PM
You won't know until you try it. No harm in giving it a go, and if it doesn't appeal to you find another one.

I used to enjoy going to my local group.

04-08-2011, 04:49 PM
I have been leery about joining a group, based mostly on the experiences of a friend.

He is a long-time member of a group in his town and every week I hear a story (or three) about what went wrong.

I believe his biggest complaint is that the group's membership covers writers from multiple genres and some of them just don't "get it" when it comes to a genre not their own.

Romance writers critiquing SF and YA writers critiquing Erotica must make for some interesting conversations.

Anne Lyle
04-08-2011, 05:24 PM
I've belonged to a couple of local groups over the years and I agree that you need to dip your toes in the water and just find out what the group is like.

1. You need at least some members to be a little ahead of you in terms of skill and experience, otherwise it's the blind leading the blind.

2. You don't all have to write the same genre, but it helps if there's a lot of overlap in your reading habits. I don't write SF, but I'll happily critique it as I've read plenty; I won't crit horror because I just don't like it. What you really don't need is critique partners who despise your genre!

Beyond that, you just need to find what works for you. I used to belong to a large group that critiqued one or two 5k pieces a fortnight, which was fine for short story writers or beginners needing help with low-level craft issues like writing dialogue, but useless for anyone wanting to get an entire novel beta-read for plot holes! Now I belong to a much smaller group of (published) writers - we meet less often but read whole manuscripts.

04-08-2011, 05:29 PM
Been there, done that, many times. Including groups that meet in libraries.

A couple have been marvy. Several have been meh. One was extremely destructive.

That said, a good group is worth more than gold and should be cherished and protected. My experience is that any group that is open to anyone wandering in isn't going to be one of those good groups--however they are places to meet people to form such a group.

The thing about any writing group is to know distinctly what it is you want from it, first and foremost, and to pick a group that's geared toward it. Critique? Support? Cheerleading? Socialization? General help? "All of the above" is nice, but groups aren't that generalized, especially if they're small. There will be one, perhaps two things that they will do extremely well and that's it. And it's rare to find a group that's conscious of what it does really well so you can't just ask them.

Actually, if you ask them, they'll probably tell you that they're a critique/support group. IME, the vast majority of them start that way, at least, and probably use critique as the basis of their meetings. That leads into other questions--does your (theirs and yours) definition of critique mesh? Do they actually do that work? Are they knowledgeable of what you write? (For instance, I wouldn't have a clue how to comment on the OP's work since she writes for children, so anything I had to say would be useless because of my ignorance on her genre/age group.)

If it's socialization/support/cheerleading, that's a little easier but the catch there is that many groups don't think that's really "enough" to base a group on so they try to do critiques and that's a setting that I've found damaging. If people are doing the work, then people expect you to take their comments, and that mixed-message often tears the group apart or makes the socialization aspect unpleasant.

Unless you're clear on what you want from the group, you won't really be able to judge whether or not this group is good for you. Once you figure that out, go and see what they have to offer. That's the only way to see if you'll actually mesh or not. And if you don't, say polite farewells and keep in touch with individuals, if you want.

I met my best friend of 25 years at such a group, FWIW. The group sucked Gilbraltar through a bar straw, but she is a treasure I still value today. My other valued beta reader was met through another such group about 10 years ago.

Good luck with it, Jilly.

04-08-2011, 06:34 PM
Thanks for your thoughts. You've highlighted a lot of what I see to be my problems. I like to think things through a lot before commenting and I do wonder how they'll be at commenting on children's writing or even if they'll want to go there. Another group I went to wasn't into that at all.

That doesn't bother me too much as I could write adult stuff and that would stretch me in a way.

I guess I'll have to bite the bullet and give them a go.

04-08-2011, 08:15 PM
I'm the co-founder of a local writing group in its 19th year. None of us were published when it started; now we have all seen print, so despite those who nay-say about such groups, for some people they work.

Any decent group will allow newcomers to observe, not forcing participation. Here are some aspects of a good group:

Members share a common goal, usually paid publication.
Members have equal status. There's no kingpin who considers himself or herself the best writer--even though someone surely is.
The work is not read aloud, since a good reader elevates work.
Writing is not critiqued on the spot but distributed to be read and mulled over for a future meeting.
Members appear to like and respect one another.
The group focuses on a genre, or if it does not, critiques of work in a genre are made only by those who read and/or write in that genre. Poets, romance writers, and fantasy authors may be unqualified to critique slash erotica or westerns, for example, unless they read it.
The members' skill levels are all adequate. Everybody can write competent, comprehensible English with few errors. A writer with poor skills can suck 90% of the group's energy into teaching him or her English basics.
Critique is delivered aloud but is also written. Critics return to the author both a written critique and a marked manuscript, since the author can't remember every remark, and not everything worth noting on a ms. is worth the whole group's time.
The group is friendly but spends most of its meeting time on writing-related activities, not socializing.
The group supports writers facing challenges and celebrates members' successes.
If you're lucky, this group at the library will incorporate most or all of those traits. But your instincts can tell you a group is not for you, too.

Warning signs of a toxic group include:

A bossy member who dominates others without challenge.
Members whose opinion of or personality conflicts with another author affects judgment of the writing.
Goals you can't accept as valid--for you. Nothing wrong with writing for self-discovery, recovery, or self-publication, but the standards for success will be wildly different from those who want to sell their writing.
Participation in or tolerance of petty squabbles, favoritism, feuds, etc.
Critiques which suggest the critic doesn't know how to critique, is completely unfamiliar with the genre, or otherwise clueless.
Critiques which subtly bash the writer rather than the work.
Authors who are defensive of their work, even hostile, rather than grateful for all input, including negative.
Members who bend any rules the group might have, such as sharing work containing graphic violence when the group has agreed it won't, or going way beyond the word count agreed upon.
Field trips or guest speakers which benefit only a few members.
Members insensitive to the feelings of a person who's hurt by criticism, valid or not.

Maryn, who knows she's lucky

04-08-2011, 08:30 PM
I wish I was local, Maryn. I particularly like the idea of having written comments. That never happened with my previous group.

04-11-2011, 01:26 AM
I'm sitting here in front of my written comments from our last meeting, each about 1.5 single-spaced pages on a 40-page play. As often happens, one person has really nailed it on a line-by-line basis. ("You made me laugh when Dan uses the word 'honkin' on p. 35,' which stopped me cold. You don't want us to laugh during a serious scene or to pause wondering why this suave man is using such awful slang. Delete, or replace?") and another has examined the structure and suggested changes which should help. ("If you give Matt and Melissa something to do, the reader will know they're not just extras filling the table but characters who are going to matter. How about having them stop Eli on his way to the bar, at a minimum?")

Maryn, hoping your group works out this well

While we really wish our group was larger, the input from every member is generally so solid that we're almost picky about who we'll take.

04-11-2011, 01:52 AM
Maryn that sounds uber productive and Im enthused just by reading your post lol *goes hunting for a local group*

04-11-2011, 03:55 PM
I psyched myself up, ran off a few copies of previous work, got out my favourite pen and went to meet them. Turns out they hadn't met in years and I was being directed to a readers group. Ah Well...

04-11-2011, 04:21 PM
*sigh* I'm jealous, too! It's one of the things I miss about college. I have an online group (and crit partners) but it's not the same. There's something about giving crit in a group that makes people less afraid to put down the pom poms and really give honest feedback. Plus, getting it all at once instead of trickles is so much easier to sift through what you need and what you don't.

04-11-2011, 05:02 PM
I recently joined a writer's group after responding to an online listing from a local writing school. I was nervous in the beginning too, thinking that maybe my writing wouldn't stack up to theirs - but I'm so glad I joined! There are six of us and we are all at about the same point. It's just great to meet and talk with other people in your same position. We can share insecurities, advice and most importantly, getting non-family and friends to read your work is sooooo important. We meet once a month and read one person's MS, then discuss it. I love my writing group!

04-11-2011, 05:40 PM
Aw, jilly, that's a disappointment.

You know, when I couldn't find a writers' group, I just started my own. The hard part was identifying potential members. I had a strong preference for it to be genre-limited, but I found a way by taking a class in writing that genre and exchanging addresses and phone numbers with many of the others.

Okay, the real hard part was contacting them, because I'm pretty shy, but that's just me.

Maryn, not looking any of you in the eye

04-11-2011, 05:54 PM
The only writer's group I've managed to find in these parts seems like a big thing, professinal almost. They have membership fees and guest speakers and things.
Still not sure if I want to go.

04-11-2011, 06:00 PM
The only writer's group I've managed to find in these parts seems like a big thing, professinal almost. They have membership fees and guest speakers and things.
Still not sure if I want to go.

I wasn't sure if I wanted to go so was surprised when I was disappointed that no one turned up.
I'd definitely go if there were guest speakers (membership fee permitting).

04-11-2011, 06:10 PM
The only writer's group I've managed to find in these parts seems like a big thing, professinal almost. They have membership fees and guest speakers and things.
Still not sure if I want to go.

The local RWA chapters do that sort of thing. It works for some people, doesn't work for others.

You might check it out and see if they allow any attendance to meetings without signing up. (Most RWA chapters will give you 2 meetings before you have to join, for instance.) If that's the case, you'll never know until you try it out.

I'd love to find a good group local to me, but the one group there is gets excited when members talk to PA, so that's not a group I can take seriously.

There's another group about 45 minutes away, and I attended that one for several months. All of the regular members were multi-published short story SF/F people, so I was the only novelist--not a good fit since it seemed I was constantly doing things for everyone else while I got pretty much nothing back. They really liked my commentary and viewpoints, however I've been in groups where one person gives and never receives before and it always ends bad for the one person. They were truly upset when I quit the group. I guess if the world tilts on its axis and I'm suddenly able to write short stories, it would be a good group to go back to, but it's not something I expect any time soon.

04-11-2011, 06:36 PM
You might check it out and see if they allow any attendance to meetings without signing up. (Most RWA chapters will give you 2 meetings before you have to join, for instance.) If that's the case, you'll never know until you try it out.
Yeah, it's two meetings here too. Maybe I will get around to it one day... :tongue

I'd love to find a good group local to me, but the one group there is gets excited when members talk to PA, so that's not a group I can take seriously.Maybe they're in need of some education?

04-11-2011, 06:48 PM
Maybe they're in need of some education?

They knew. They didn't care.

04-11-2011, 07:07 PM
I'm not a group person. It would not work for me. However, I can see how it would work for some.

Try it out. If you like or don't, at least you will know.