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The Pros and Cons of Joining a Writing Group

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.

 

Pros

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…

 

Cons

  • 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!

 

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Join the Discussion on “The Pros and Cons of Joining a Writing Group”

  1. Marilyn says:

    Great article. I have belonged to a number of different writing groups, most of which do concentrate on helpful critiquing.
    Pros are: help in all areas of continuity, grammar, etc.y help, guidance, awareness of pitfalls, and encouragement. It does not really matter about the genres that much, but some things can be a deterrent.
    Some cons are: — (example a writer who is into profanity overkill), a genre that is tough to follow; writers who may be such beginners that their comments are not of sufficient help to a more advanced writer; beginning writers who cannot accept any critique at all — they are blind to anything but their own writing.
    Currently I am in a small writing group where each participant has a different strength in their critiquing, which is fabulous. They are all published writers, and have a strong sense of their own voices, so we can battle out critiques without being hurtful.
    I have left groups where writers are too new to be helpful, or where they are so advanced, they have godlike tendencies.

  2. Mary Sadler says:

    I’m disappointed with writing groups on Facebook because someone, sometime, will try to make money out of the members by offering free proofreading – at a fee. Also, the critique isn’t really trustworthy, as it’s usually on a quid pro quo basis

  3. Leslie says:

    I’ve had mixed success with writing groups. I find they usually devolve into social interactions – which is fun, simply to be in the same space as other writers – but not terribly useful for getting feedback on work. I think it depends too on where each writer is in their skill-level and goals. Like Mary mentioned above, there’s almost always a pitch from someone about buying their book, letting them proofread, beta-read, etc. and that gets wearying. I’ve found a loose collection of writer friends who get together for lunch or coffee and bounce plot ideas is usually more productive than actually trying to workshop but everyone’s mileage may vary…

  4. Loren Herrigstad says:

    Writing groups have only marginally interested me, and I’ve never joined one. I was invited to join a screenwriting group once, but having already written three screenplays, even trying to sell them, I felt I had already progressed beyond the ranks of local screenwriting hobbyists and newbies. So I didn’t join.

    To me, good writing, and good writers, are already possessed of a clear, even powerful vision. One can improve that vision by reading other writing. I did that a lot learning both my screenwriting and now novel writing crafts. But trying to bounce nascent or incomplete ideas back and forth among different visions and different experiences, that just strikes me as chaos and not very helpful towards improving or clarifying one’s own vision. It’s why I’ve never felt the need to collaborate on screenwriting or writing novels.

    Writing now seems much like spirituality, and especially meditation, to me. Some need to find it in groups or churches. Others find or practice it best on their own. I’m just realizing I’m one of the latter. While I’d still like company, even companionship, for other reasons; I’m just finding my writing is doing well and coming through just fine on its own. When I’m in a groove and doing my best writing, even my dog can be a distraction, jerking me out of my unfolding story . . . unless she’s still and snoozing beside me.

    If you want, learn the writing craft with others. It can be a little like school: fun, perhaps chaotic, and also not quite you. But then consider doing both yourself and the vision you’ve been given or that has grown within you a favor — consider giving it the silence and distraction-free environment to really come through. As I have been at times, you might be surprised with the results.

  5. I started a couple of monthly Meetups for writers, in Fairfield County Connecticut where I live. One is an open mic where they can come and read their work, the other a meeting where people come to meet other writers, get advice, offer recommendations, etc. We don’t do any writing there. The reason people return every month, is because I ask them at the end of the session to tell us what they plan to get done in the following month, and at the beginning of each meeting, we ask them what they managed to do. And stuff gets done! I’ve seen people go from manuscript to publication this way. I have a critique group too, because I value my friends’ feedback.

  6. Kathy Crouch says:

    I’m a member of Romance Writers of America. I’m in several online chapters along with my local chapter. Several fellow members and myself have a chat room where we hang out and chat about writing, do writing sprints and just talk about what we’ve got going on in our lives.

  7. Betti Avari says:

    As a first foray into writing, my 3-year pet project was crap; so many of my darlings needed to be killed. So many pages were wasted on useless description. My dabblings in google searches only brought up a few valid resources. Entered a writing group.

    Attended with much trepidation and fear of criticism. Found people as passionate as I am, who share my fears of rejection. Gave pet project a few more months of my time, whilst learning about: types of edits, (line, content, etc.) alpha and beta readers, categorizing my writing into a genre (if possible), submission query letters and synopses. Writing group got heated and disbanded. Depression followed. Attended a writing conference and decided to find a new writing group. Writing jargon was now familiar, and I had a few works completed. In this new group, I contributed as someone who had some experience and advice regarding many writing topics. I learned of a writing contest in this writing group, submitted, and got published. I’ll admit, I’m lucky.

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