|When writers get together they have the opportunity to share ideas, plans, marketing strategies and explore whole new sides of the writing process. This stimulation is a marvelous adjunct to your own writing efforts. One reason I endorse writer groups is because writing is a solitary (and lonely!) experience. A writer can feel as if they are the only ones faced with specific problems. They aren’t! In a group, you soon realize all writers face similar experiences–both good and bad.
However, there can be a distinct down-side to writing groups also, especially online groups.
I’ve joined, led and spoken at various writers groups. And I’ve learned a lot. But some of the lessons had little to do with writing. There ARE goods groups and you can gain by any you attend, if only to open your eyes to the various approaches to writing. Like in any group, the mix of people who attend will make all the difference. Focusing on a group of writers who write in your same genre (memoir, mystery, fantasy, children’s stories, etc.) can be the most rewarding. But don’t overlook the “any genre allowed” groups; sometimes the freshness of a variety of writers is stimulating. Also consider on-line writers groups. There are lots of them out there, so be picky and find one that suits you best. The following principles apply for both local groups and online writing groups.
TYPES OF GROUPS: Writer’s groups are extremely varied. Some are no more than social clubs, with lots of members, very organized, with potlucks and many members who never quite get around to writing. Others are hardcore crtiquers, “you must bring in so much each week” types. Others have members who write, yes, but few or none of them are able/willing/interested in giving any real feedback to the other members. I’ve been in all these types and more. Some sweet and sincere, some very helpful, some defensive and just plain difficult to be around.
WILLING LISTENERS: Most groups devote much of their time reading and discussing each other’s writing. The more exposure you can get for your writing to willing listeners the better–right? Not necessarily. Are these people the type to read (as in buy a book on) the kind of thing you are writing? Is their comment really pertinent to your genre? Some group members may be very capable of offering great advice on ANY genre, yet others will see all writing from their own genre’s perspective only, which may not help and, in fact, hinder you.
NETWORKING: Networking with other writers about agents, publishers, what’s hot on the market, etc. is one of a writer’s most valuable tools. You still have to do your own research, but you can get a leg up with sharing this kind of info. And you can learn much about the techniques of writing, too, if the others in a group share what they’ve learned from this book or that workshop.
ONLINE WARNING: One particular problem with online groups can be caustic and hurtful criticisms. It is possible you have weaknesses in various ares (we all do!) but in live groups, with people face-to-face, comments will be tempered with enough consideration that they don’t feel just plain mean. Online it isn’t also so. The facelessness of the Internet allows a member to slam a writer with criticism in wording they’d never use in person. The key here is to read some of the other online criticism first and decide if the group tone is respectful of its members before joining in.
CONCLUSION: So … my best advice is to go, yes, but to keep your eyes and ears and heart open. Tell them you are only visiting. See what they offer in the way of real help to the others, how cliquish they are, how capable they are at writing themselves. And then decide if YOU would feel comfortable BOTH having them read and comment on your work and also if you would be comfortable commenting on theirs.