Writing Groups: Join or Pass?

If you’ve been writing for any span of time, you’ve more than likely heard the phrase, “You should join a writing group!” There are a lot of good reasons to join one, but I’ll be the first to tell you that they have their cons as well.

First, I love writing groups. I’ve had the opportunity to meet some amazing people, hear stories, and make very strong friendships. Every week I have gone, I’ve improved as a writer. There are individuals who protest writing groups, but I am all for it.

What is this writing group thing? A writing group is a collection of writers, or avid readers, who come together to share their work. Sometimes these people are introverts looking for the weekly socialization and other times these are people looking to gain attention for what they’ve written. Some regard writing groups as a merciless collection of people looking to butcher your book baby and leave it bleeding red. Other times they’ll hold your hand and talk about how your words moved them.

Let’s dive into the positive stuff because, first and foremost, there’s a lot of benefits.

Writing groups are pretty awesome in the sense that you get feedback (for free) from a group of people from various walks of life. 90% of what I learned about writing I learned by attending my weekly sessions. I didn’t go to college for writing, take any fancy classes, or have a fairy bless me with creative wisdom. Not saying you shouldn’t do any of those things (especially that last one), but not everyone needs those. Having a degree in creative writing gives some authors an edge when progressing forward and provides a layer of content knowledge others end up learning later on. Many individuals I know who write do have an English or a Creative degree. On the flip side, I’ve also met authors who never took an English class outside of the mandatory requirements for their degree and their books are best sellers. It depends on you and what you need.

One of the major perks of a writing group is you have a diverse demographic to work with. At my group, we have several prior military members, a teacher, a technical writer, someone who was in prison for years, a prior police officer, a patrol officer, a computer IT person, a pharmacist and a baker. One of those people own their own publishing group and other individuals have been working with publishing for years and shares a lot of input when it comes to getting published. That’s a lot of different backgrounds to pull from.

Having a network of fellow writers is great. They’ll understand your pain, your struggles, and think it is totally normal you argue with people you can’t see in your head. They also have experience and advice to give you as you progress throughout your writing career.

If you don’t have the ability to leave your home, there are online possibilities as well. I tried a few sites in the first year I wrote my book and found the following three beneficial.

Scribophile is an awesome writing resource with articles about writing, getting agents, and even self-publishing. There are also forums you can post on to either ask for writing advice or discuss various literary topics. They have a system for in exchange for giving three reviews for people’s work, you can request one for yours.
*Pro: Opportunities to network and get feedback for your work
*Con: Subscription-based and it will take *forever* to get your book critiqued with the way the system is set up.

–NaNoWriMo/Camp NaNoWriMo–
Every month is NaNoWriMo for me, but I enjoy taking part in this because of the energy and people you met when you take part. There is a goal tracking system to help keep you productive and you can hang out with other participants at cafes.
*Pro: Awesome energy, support, and discounts on writing resources if you “win.”
*Con: Stressful if you aren’t used to writing 2k words a day on top of whatever else you do.

I used this website for the longest time but stopped with the site admin changed the rating of my story to Mature (violence/language). The website is very awesome. You can earn points through engagement, creating goals, and leaving feedback. It turns into a currency you can give to others to encourage them to read your work which they can use on the site store.
*Pro: Encourages you to write and engage with other writers
*Con: The majority of work is poetry and you have no idea what the credentials of the reviewers are. To unlock the majority of features, you have to subscribe. If you write anything with a mature rating, you won’t be able to ask for reviews without paying for them in advance.

There are plenty of other sites out there for you to pick from, but these are the three I gravitated towards when I started writing. If you know a really good site for feedback, please feel free to leave it in a comment down below.

Did I keep up with the online groups? No. Mostly because I need human interaction with other people and I found online options to be limited in the long run. So where did I find my group? Meetup.com. You can find a group anywhere. They are at libraries, colleges, coffee shops, diners–everywhere. I picked my group because it was close and ended up really liking what they had to say.

If you do go to a physical group, be ready to bring copies of your work. If you follow the format I have below, it will save you a lot of time since the first thing people talk about in copies is your format.

  • Bring printed copies (about ten will do) in Times New Roman, 12, double spaced, and paragraph indents with no space between paragraphs. Page length depends on the group you are attending. Check ahead of time.
  • Your samples will be marked up and sometimes you can’t read it. Chuck the illegible stuff or work with the individual who wrote it to encourage them to write legibly.

I did visit a few other groups, which leads me into the types of groups you’ll encounter. The titles of the names below are made up by me, so don’t take them as gospel.

–The Soul Star Group–
This group has one amazing writer and if you didn’t know it when you arrived, you’ll know it when you leave. This person often gets amazing feedback and there’s never anything wrong with their writing. If you point out something that either wasn’t clear or make sense, the whole group will gang up on you until you stop talking. When it is your turn, everyone will tear your stuff up because you just aren’t as good as the star writer. I don’t like this group for obvious reasons.

–Sensitive Feeling Group–
This group is all about making you feel better about your writing. If you give negative feedback, be ready to say two nice things as well because we are here to build up self-esteem, not improve ourselves as writers. Not a fan of this group since I am looking to make my writing better, but if you are new writing needing a boost, this is good.

–Mandatory Verbal Feedback Group–
Even if you write all your feedback down, you’ll be expected to say something. And if someone said something you would have said, well, you get to say it again because we like redundant feedback. I typically write all my feedback on the printed copy and only say something if I want the rest of the group to have a say in it.

–Critique Beforehand Group–
This group requires that you do your feedback before showing up and discuss when you arrive. I am not a fan of this group because half the time you do the feedback only for the person to not show up. When will they arrive again? Who knows, but better bring those copies every week just to be safe…

–The Village Inn Group–
This is the group I am part of and I tried to think of a funny name, but couldn’t. These folks aren’t here to make you feel better but to look at your writing and see if a) it is clear b) makes sense c) help you find mistakes. They don’t attack you but try to help you with your writing. If you try to explain your writing because you think they don’t understand the vast workings of your mind, they’ll thank you for sharing and move into the next person. They like pie and hate adverbs.

“Okay Carrow, you talked a lot about the good things with writing groups. Where are the cons at?”

I know, I know… can’t give the good without the bad, right? Only fair.

The major downside to attending a writing group is it has one thing not everyone can handle: the crucible of creative discourse. As much as you want others to say your work is amazing and you are the next rising star in literature, they will point out your flaws, plot holes, misspelling, bad grammar, etc. You have to have thick skin. If you think feedback from the writing group is bad, wait until someone leaves a bad review for your book on GoodReads/Amazon. That stays FOREVER. You could argue that this is a pro, because it primes you for the day you have to receive negative reviews and toughens you for real-world criticism.

Sometimes you get poor advice from attendees at writing group. This is due to inexperience or misconceptions. Occasionally you’ll encounter someone who doesn’t know your genre and will offer suggestions to change it to what they know. Learn to notice where the unuseful feedback is coming from and ignore it. You may be tempted to argue with these people, but don’t. It’s a waste of energy. Thank them for their time and move to the next person.

People who go to writing group are socially unique. I’ve read stories that left me wanting to call the cops and met people I wish I could Silence on. At the same time, I’ve also met war veterans looking to tell their story, read memoirs for grandchildren, and encounters those from other countries trying to improve their written English. You meet a lot of different people and need to cherish the good over the bad.

The very last con is the one that irks me the most–selfish people. We all attend writing group to get feedback, but we offer it at the time same. It’s a trade of time and effort. I’ve seen individuals who come for their work and don’t offer any feedback on anyone else’s stuff and always return the copies blank. People like this are leeches using you to help themselves without offering anything in return. This is infuriating and the only thing I can offer to combat it is to treat these individuals as they are treating the group: give them nothing.

And there you have it. The good, the bad, and the “ugh!” of writing groups. My end thought is that even though these are my experiences, I’d encourage you to attend one (or a few) and see if you can find a group for yourself. The socialization and the support network alone is always worth the time.

If you’ve attended a writing group, how did you find the experience?