Writing can be a lonely task. As you sit by the light of your monitor and type away at a story, you have no idea if what you’re creating will be received as inspired genius or unmitigated drivel.
One way to find out is to share your story with other people. Family and friends might say they like it – but you can never escape the feeling that they’re just being nice. So how can you get an informed opinion with constructive feedback?
The answer for some is to join a group of fellow writers.
The idea is simple; a group of like-minded individuals comes together every week or once a month to discuss what they have written. They get ideas on how to improve their craft and learn from one another.
Sounds great… in theory. But the reality of writers groups isn’t always ideal.
Let’s explore the pros and cons of joining a writers group, so you can decide if it’s a good idea for you.
There are many positives to joining a writing group. These include:
- Sharing knowledge on the craft of writing. For example, you might learn how to write a tense action scene, from someone who specializes in that arena. In return, you can help them polish up on their character interaction.
- Learning the business ropes. Fellow group members may excel on the business side of writing and can offer a wealth of advice and support. How did they get published? Who chose self-publishing and what did they learn?
- A sense of community and friendship. As you know, writing can be lonely. It’s good to build connections with people and keep your social life alive.
- Chances to broaden your horizons, try new techniques and genres. You might discover how to write great flash fiction or enter a poetry competition for the first time, for example.
- It gets you out of the house, which is good for your mind and your body too.
- Groups are often free or very cheap to join – your time is the only cost.
- Free editing and proofreading of your work. Editing fees can be extremely expensive if there’s a lot to fix in your manuscript – a good group will help you polish before you put your work in front of a professional.
- A confidence boost. Receiving great feedback from your peers – even when it’s in the form of constructive criticism that genuinely makes your work better – is an excellent jump-start for your confidence. And we all need that from time to time.
As you can see, there are plenty of weighty positives – but let’s check the potential negatives…
- Personality clashes. In any group of passionate people, personality clashes are bound to happen. You need to think about whether you can easily brush off comments from the romance writer next to you who does not like your horror story and thinks it needs more heart. Similarly, are you likely to be pushed over the edge when the thriller writer says your romantic saga needs a murder or two for the fourth time?
- The grammar police. Every writing group has at least one member who seems to focus solely on spelling and grammar. It doesn’t matter how many times you tell them it’s the first draft, and you’re discussing story development today – they will only consider it once it’s grammatically perfect, regardless of the audience for whom you’re writing.
- The program. Some groups do specific exercises on specific nights, inspired by an object or idea. Others may have rules about reading, and will only listen to people read their pieces aloud. Will they be open to any alternative activities if you don’t find the current methods to be helpful?
- Who’s in charge? Who decides what you’ll do? How are the group leaders chosen? Far too often, budding writers report being disheartened and regularly upset by getting caught up in mini-dictatorships where higher-up egos lord over all.
- The blind leading the blind. Be careful of fledgling groups that are populated only by total novices. These can be hotbeds of bad advice if they don’t start off as a reading and learning group – instead, everyone ends up running in place.
- Booking a place to meet, buying cakes and coffee, emailing updates, making a website for the group, or even publishing a small regular newsletter. Management tasks can snowball into a much bigger commitment than you ever expected if you decide to assume the mantle. Don’t underestimate the time this takes up in your life.
It might seem that adults can sit in a room and make compromises, and sometimes they do. But it’s amazing how simple differences in opinion can create huge waves in a writing group. Do you need more drama in your life beyond what you’re putting on the page?
But every writing group is different, of course. If you live in an area with a large population, it’s likely you’ll be able to find a group that fits with most of your needs. But if you live in a small town, your options may be severely limited. If the sole group in your nearest town has been running for some time with the same group of people, coming through the door with a bunch of new and exciting ideas might not go down well. An insular group mentality can be a hard one to go up against.
Even with the risks, the positive aspects of joining a writing group are hard to ignore. If you still love the idea of sharing ideas with writers and aren’t daunted by the possible negatives, here’s what you can do:
- Join your local group and make the best of it
- Make your own group and decide what you will do and who joins
- Join an online group
Online groups for writing feedback are growing in popularity. The advantage of these is that they can have thousands of members all across the world. You aren’t limited to a time or place, so it’s flexible, and you’re much more likely to find a group of people who reflect your interests.
(And you can always walk away from the computer instead of flipping a real-life table when the group know-it-all yanks your final straw!)
There are a growing number of writing groups on Facebook – just search for the term “writing group” or “writers” and see which one you like. These mostly have the advantage of being free, but might not be as professional as you’d like.
Websites such as Scribophile (free for a basic membership but you need to pay for full access) also encourage writers to help improve each other’s work. Inked Voices is similar, but puts writers into smaller, more intimate groups for more in-depth feedback. Again this is a paid group after a free trial.
Still, there’s a massive range of potential homes for you out there. Many writing groups have fees to pay for hiring a space, buying the cake, or keeping everyone well watered during meetings. Others might levy membership fees just to be certain that everyone who attends is, in fact, serious about what they do.
The choice is yours to make – after all, access to a wide range of experienced writers who can help you move up the ladder is a service many writers would be happy to pay for, right?
What do you think about writing groups, and what would you look out for when searching for one? Do you love the one you’re in? Ever found yourself trapped in a nightmare group? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments!