Have you ever shared your work with a writers group? In preparation for my very first meeting, I wrote a short story. When they asked me to read it aloud,
I nearly died, but got through it somehow. They said it was wonderful, which didn’t ring true to me, but I lapped up the praise anyway. Perhaps the warm glow was what I needed at the time.
Ten Things I Learned in Writers Groups
1. Writers groups are places for bonding with people who get why you write, why you care to express yourself, and why you keep at it despite all the rejection. They can be a shot in the arm even for those of us who aren’t social butterflies.
2. The ideal number of people for a writers group depends on the purpose of the group. I was once in a critique group that was limited to five people to allow time at each meeting to read every person’s work. In another group, which averaged over twenty at the weekly meeting, only four or five writers would get their ten pages critiqued, and it took several months for everyone to get a turn. For groups who meet to hear speakers, the size of the room is the only limiting factor.
3. I tried out three or four writers groups that met in noisy restaurants, where we were constantly saying, “Could you repeat that?” We ended up shouting at each other, making our comments sound more critical than they actually were. If I have to struggle to hear and be heard, the group is not for me.
4. Writers come with—surprise!—unique personalities, skill levels, and tastes in reading. While one person may love your work, there’s bound to be someone else who yawns (discretely, of course.)
5. To find a group that suits our purposes, we have to identify what we want and put out feelers for an existing group or create a new group ourselves. I recently heard about a group for those who regularly submit work for publication. At meetings the writers not only report their rejections and acceptances, but also help each other by proofreading query letters and book proposals.
6. Some writers see groups as competitions where one writer emerges as the best. How do you define “best” anyway? If we really want to see how we compare with others, we can enter literary contests.
7. Along the same vein, writers can be harsh with their feedback. In one group I was in, a writer burst into tears and never came back. Talking about ground rules at the first meeting can go a long ways toward circumventing hurtful encounters.
8. Most people who participate in writers groups support their fellow writers wholeheartedly: they read their work, ask insightful questions, give constructive suggestions, and always identify the strengths of the writing. The instructor of a recent critique workshop told us to suggest ways “to make the piece even stronger.” Isn’t that positive? I like the assumption that each piece, no matter how inexperienced its author, has at least one thing going for it.
9. Some writers groups encourage written feedback. At one I attended, people made notes as works were read aloud, and when it was finished, a few gave verbal comments while everyone passed their little slips of paper to the author. The first time this happened to me, the gracious comments took my breath away. Reading the papers again later, I considered the merits of each one, weeded out what didn’t strike a chord with me, and made changes to my work based on the rest. I stayed in that group for a while just because of the written feedback.
10. While there’s no such thing as a perfect writers group, most are great places to meet other writers, network, brainstorm about writing issues, learn more about the craft and resources, and get help when we’re stuck.
Does this list reflect your experience?
Thanks for reading!