Part 2: The Whys and Whats.
What can a writing group do for you? When I ask writing group members this question I usually get some variation on three basic points.
a. Writing is a lonely business. A writing group provides needed socialization. At work I get time to socialize with friends and colleagues, but in the summer when I don’t teach I might see no one but my wife and my writing group for weeks at a time. I like my privacy but even I need some human contact.
b. More than in most careers, writers put their innermost thoughts, fears, hopes and loves out in front of people. We take risks and it’s scary. Sometimes it results in rejection. This hurts. We begin to doubt our talent, our luck, everything. Only other writers will really understand and a writing group can provide needed emotional support.
c. To improve their craft, writers need reader feedback. Books on writing are good but there’s no substitute for receiving a critical evaluation of your work. Editors and publishers don’t have time. You can pay professional editors but that’s costly and you get one opinion. You can ask family members and friends but that’s generally a bad idea. You’re likely to get either glowing reviews or anger because they think you’re writing about them.
I once shared a story with my mom that I thought was really good. She looked up at me with tears in her eyes as she finished it. “Is this what you think of me?” she asked. I was devastated. And confused. The story was a Twilight Zone type twist ending tale. It did have an older woman character with gray hair and Mom, who was an older woman with gray hair, took it to represent her.
A writing group can be easiest and cheapest source of feedback available for writers. This is the major reason I’m in one.
Say you are starting to think that a writing group might be for you. What kinds of groups are out there? Many. But, I think they can be divided into three broad types.
a. Support Groups: Provide emotional & literary support for writers. Many such groups are professional and nationwide. Romance, mystery, thriller groups etc. I’m in HWA. Many have smaller local affiliates. You pay to be a member.
Strong at: newsletters, markets, contests, speakers, workshops, social events, webpages, networking opportunities.
Weaker at: One on one feedback, the nuts and bolts of constructing a story or novel, actual practice at writing.
Dangers of: Too much talking, not enough doing. People can sometimes feel they are accomplishing writing while not actually putting words on the page. In extreme cases, this can actually decrease a person’s motivation to write.
b. Discussion Groups: General discussion about writing. Such as: genres of writing, plotters vs pantsers, info dumps, importance of dialogue & description, writing habits, many more. Such groups often include discussion on what members are reading and their reactions.
Strong at: socializing opportunities, philosophy and theory of storytelling, emotional support, spontaneous discussion of writing issues.
Weaker at: One on one feedback, actual practice at writing, fewer networking opportunities.
Dangers of: Same as Support groups with too much social, not enough writing. Themes may begin to repeat after a while.
c. Critique Groups: (The kind I prefer). Members read each other’s writing and make critical comments, both on what works and what doesn’t. Can catch anything from grammar and punctuation errors, to clichéd writing, to plot holes, etc.
Strong at: One on one feedback, nuts and bolts of writing, actual practice at writing, motivation to write, getting your words in front of actual readers.
Weaker at: relatively fewer socialization & networking opportunities, less of the big picture, less spontaneous discussion of writing issues.Dangers of: Hurt feelings.