For years when I was younger, I dreaded attending writing groups. I compared them to a wake of vultures ready to descend upon the carcass that is my writing piece and rip it apart. Then, the wake would return the tattered remains of my work to me with loads of comments aka suggestions that I possess no writing talent. Facing this “fact”, I would resign myself to a lifetime of never picking up a pen or touching a keyboard again.
Then a few years ago, I actually joined a writing group. This one met in a huge room of a New Jersey bookstore, the sort of room where author signings are held. The writing group was nothing like my over-the-top imagination. The fellow writers I met were helpful, thoughtful and I learned a lot from the leader, a freelance writer and writing teacher local to North Jersey. In reality, a writing group isn’t the nightmarish quagmire some people would imagine. If formed and lead correctly, a writing group is meant to help, not hinder, writers.
Nowadays, I not only like writing groups, but I recommend them. I’m a member of quite a few in the Orlando, FL, area. You can find them in your region on Meetup.com, which is to me the foremost database of groups with common interests. On the homepage, input the keyword “writing groups” (or some variation) in the search box, the distance radius (in miles), and then the town or metropolitan area. As of the date of this writing (May 13, 2014), 13 writing groups exist within a 25 mile radius of Orlando. You can even find local writing groups at the nearest library or through an online search engine.
Writing is a “lonely” and “solitary” job, to partially quote Hemingway and Faulkner respectively. However, it doesn’t mean isolating yourself when it’s time to revise your first, second or even 20th draft. Joining a writing group is one terrific way to step up your writing talents and guide you in the right direction.
Here are some benefits of joining a writing group.
Get helpful feedback
A writer is partial to his/her work, no matter how many times he/she revises it. Getting two or three other readers to read your work is not only highly suggested, but mandatory. Called beta readers, these readers will point out the draft’s flaws you may have never noticed before.
A writing group is an excellent place to find beta readers because they pretty much know what to look for. Don’t expect to just receive feedback. As part of a group, you should try giving some to other members as well. Give more, get more!
A word of caution here: critiques are recommendations, not the gospel truth. When one member suggests a flaw in your draft, you don’t have to accept it. You have the final say in telling your story. On the other hand, if several people point out the same fault, like an underdeveloped protagonist or a flat scenery description, perhaps you should pay attention to that shortcoming.
Receive plenty of support and motivation
I can’t tell you how many times I left a writing group with the reinvigorated passion to go home and write. A writing group is a support group for writers. From combating writer’s block to overcoming rejection from publishers and agents, we writers need all the support we can get. Some writing groups read each other’s work out loud; such readings can spark your imagination and inspire you to compose your own material just as well or better.
Some groups have writing prompts, which are the diving board to creating material like describing an object or rewriting a short story from a different character’s point of view. One group I’m involved with had a prompt in which each member wrote a chapter of a book. At each meeting (held every two weeks), the author presented that chapter. Then it was up to another member to continue the story. Our story ended up being about a journalist and his friends squaring off against Nazi zombies, with one chapter being told in Greek epic poetry style a la Homer’s Iliad.
Acquire new writing techniques
From determining the story’s point of view to leveraging social media for self-promotion, a writing group can trade how-tos on writing techniques, submission to agents and publication, self-publishing and marketing strategies. As with everything in life, writing is a forever-evolving profession or hobby for an individual. If a writer desires to grow and change, he/she will have to move out of their comfort zone, like creating a character different from themselves.
Learn about contests, literary events and more
Some writing groups have newsletters and their own website. The Florida State Poets Association, of which I’m a member, has both resources available. Furthermore, I’m on the association’s mailing list. Newsletters and websites are great for staying up-to-date on writing contests, book events, author appearances, workshops and other opportunities. If you’re joining a writing group, consider signing up for snail mail newsletters and/or e-newsletters. It’s important to take advantage of the resources that can help refine your writing skills and keep you plugged in with a network of writers.
Not all writing groups are the same. Some mete out writing prompts where members only produce material and read them out loud; others critique members’ works for publication. Before joining a writing group, ask yourself some questions:
- Do I want to pursue writing as a hobby or as a profession?
- What are my goals as a writer? Do I want to simply tell a story, or get published and even make money?
- Do I have drafts that need critiquing or simply need to bounce ideas off fellow writers?
These questions and more will help your quest in finding the most suitable writing group for you. If a group isn’t meeting your goals, search elsewhere. In time, you will discover a writing group (or two or three!) that not only benefits your purposes, but also a camaraderie of writers that have your back.
Teresa Edmond-Sargeant is an author living in Orlando, FL. Her short story e-book, Eve the First: A Fairy Tale Revision, is available now on Amazon Kindle.