Should You Join a Writing Group?

SAMSUNGThe benefits of a writing group depend on the type of group you join. Most writers think of critique when they think of a writing group, but that doesn’t always have to be the case. If you live in a big city, you probably have a lot of choices when it comes to picking a group. But if you live in a more rural area, you might have to create your own. So how do you know what’s right for you? You start by listing your needs.

Are you looking for emotional support or a ruthless deconstruction of your text? Do you have to meet face-to-face or would an online forum work for you? Make a list of your top five must-haves in a writing group and go from there.

Here’s a quick list of the most popular types of writing groups:

The Critique Group
Most critique groups meet in person, but some do online work too. Critique groups meet regularly, with members making the commitment to bring their own work ready to submit to the group, as well as the willingness to read someone else’s work and give constructive feedback. Most critique groups meet on at least a monthly basis. Writers are expected to do some work outside the group, as being a member means taking home the work of others, reading it thoroughly, and then making comments and suggestions for improvement.

If you’re at the stage where you have a finished rough draft of something and you’re looking for honest feedback from objective readers, this could be the group for you. Or if you thrive on deadlines the promise to submit your work to the group might keep you accountable. However, critique groups usually look for commitment from their writers and prefer members who have the intention to stick around. If you have very little time to give, or you may not be able to make the meetings regularly, this probably isn’t a great choice for you.

The Reading Circle
Reading circles usually meet weekly or monthly and everyone brings something to read out loud. After a writer takes their turn reading their piece, the group gives their reaction to it and feedback. Since the writer presents their work in the moment it’s a little more casual than the critique group, and the feedback is usually not as detailed as you might find through critique.

Many reading circles are based on specific genres of writing. For instance, the San Francisco Center for Sex & Culture holds an erotic reading circle every month, and all fiction shared is erotic in theme. If you’re working within a specific genre and you’re looking for that genre’s specific audience, the reading circle format could work out very well for you. You have the opportunity to connect with like-minded writers and potential fans. And if you’re crunched for time, it’s convenient too. Most reading circles are just fine about writers and readers dropping in whenever they can make it.

The Support Network
If you’re lucky enough to have a few awesome writer friends, you can really benefit emotionally from getting together with them once a month, or once a week, for coffee or beers or just to sit in the park and catch up. Every writer needs someone to talk shop with—and no one understands what you’re going through like a fellow writer. Whether you have exciting news to share (someone’s finally interested in that story you’ve been shopping around!) or you need someone to commiserate with (you thought you were totally done with your book but now realize you have to write five more chapters), meeting with other writers is immeasurably helpful for your morale.

And if you happen to be a writer who doesn’t have any other friends who are also writers, it’s time to make some. Put out an ad on Craigslist, start a Meetup group—stand on the street corner with a sign if you have to—but make those connections. Your writer friends are going to be one of your most valuable resources.

The Timed Writing Group
This is the type of writing group I belong to and I can’t recommend it highly enough. My group meets at a café once a week and we sit together and write for one hour. We take a break, and then we write for another hour. The leader of the group uses a timer and tells us when to begin and when the hour’s up. The main focus of the group is to sit your butt in the chair and devote a whole hour to your writing, even if you’re not feeling particularly inspired. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat there for 20 or 30 minutes staring at a blank page and then been hit with inspiration. I don’t have the discipline to force myself to sit there for that long and slog it out if I’m by myself at home. Something about being surrounded by other writers, slogging it out too, acts like a form of positive peer pressure. After a while, something always comes.

The timed writing group can integrate elements of all the other groups too, if the members decide that’s what they want. Work can be exchanged for critique, or read out loud after the timed hour, and members will more than likely end up friends. That’s what happened with our group.

Even though writers do our most important work up in our heads, we still need community. Joining a writing group can be one of the best decisions you can make for your overall writing health. So what do you do if the writing group you want to join doesn’t exist yet or doesn’t have an open slot for any new writers? You start your own group. Next week I’ll talk about exactly how you can do this no matter where you live or how many other writers you currently know.

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