Some people hear writing group and immediately cringe or even run like you are being chased by a zombie. This is usually because they have tried a writing group and had a bad experience, or they’ve heard about the bad experiences. I have heard my share of horror stories. However, I currently participate in two writing groups and love them.
It is hard to spend days, months, or years writing something. You take a piece of your soul and put it into your writing. (Kind of like a Horcrux.) Then people say that you should share it with other people who are going to tell you what is wrong with it!? That is just crazy talk!
Well, here is the deal, people are going to judge the writing and your writing ability when you publish it. Now, if you are just writing for yourself, or for posterity, with no intent to publish, you could skip the writing group. If you have any plans to publish your writing, I highly recommend you find a writing group of some kind. Better to hear of flaws in your writing from people who become friends, than to hear (or not hear) it from readers. A friend will pick your work up again even if the first piece had flaws. A reader is less likely to pick up another book if they didn’t like the first.
You may say, “I tried a group. It was the most horrible thing I’ve ever experienced.” It likely wasn’t the right fit for you. There are many kinds of writing groups. Each individual group has their own personality. It takes time to find ones that mesh with you.
This is what people usually think of when you say writing group. This type of group is typically 4-6 people. More than that becomes too time-consuming. If the group becomes bigger than that and the meeting space is large enough, the group can be subdivided into 2 or more smaller groups.
Typically, each person gets a copy of the text being read, and one person will read out-loud a certain number of pages or for a certain length of time. Listeners will scribble notes on the page for you to review later. Then they go around a circle verbally highlighting their thoughts on what was read. In my group (since 2 of us are teachers–we like structure and positivity) we require that you say it sandwich style:
- Start with something you like/love about the writing
- Add an area in which the writer can grow (improve)
- End with something positive.
The hardest part of the whole process is that when you are listening to the comments, you are not allowed to speak. You cannot answer if they ask any questions. You can’t explain your thinking. You must listen, nod, and take notes. This prevents you from getting defensive. You have to develop a mindset that they are only comments. You will, with time, learn which comments to ignore and which you need to take to heart.
I highly recommend that you try going more than once. The first few times I went to mine I experienced a myriad of emotions: nervousness, excitement, embarrassment, soul-crushing hurt, and elation. I started to learn some things. I started to change my mindset. For a time I thought I was just an awful writer. (I’m really good at dismissing positive comments and focusing on the negative ones.) One month, I brought a different type of writing. The group loved it! They insist that I write several short stories with this character. The difference? I believe Epic fantasy vs. Urban fantasy. This group is not as fond of epic fantasy as they are of urban. So finding the right critique group is critical too.
I haven’t been in this group for a long time, only 9 months. I can definitely see that they have helped me improve already. I will talk more about the benefits of groups in another post in this series.
Social Writing Group
This is my favorite kind. I go to my social writing group every Thursday evening after work. It is an extremely laid-back group. Usually, anywhere between 8- 18 of us meet at 6pm-ish at a coffee shop. Some show up earlier and some show up later. We go until 9pm-ish. Originally we kept to a schedule. On the first Thursday of the month, we would sit and write. Second Thursday was for asking and working through the plots. The third Thursday was for critique. The fourth Thursday was a night off. Several of us just came anyway though. Over the last two years of meeting, we’ve changed it so that we do all those things every week as needed.
The way we handle critiques is much different from what people traditionally do. We print a few copies of a chapter. Then we put them in the middle of the table for someone to pick up, read, and write comments on it. Sometimes after they write comments on the pages, they meet with the person to explain what they meant by their comments, offer suggestions, and brainstorm fixes.
Many nights we write a little and talk a lot. Some might think it is a waste, but I find it energizing. Often I go home afterward and write. The words flow much easier.
Sit-in Writing Group
I have participated in these during NaNoWriMo. These remind me of the lock-ins that I used to go to as a teenager. Sometimes they have them go on all night long. I went to one at an IHOP. It started a 9 pm. I tapped out at around 3 am. Others went on until 6 am!
These are simple. Set a time and place. Bring your laptop, tablet, notebook, or whatever you write on. Introduce yourself. Order food, coffee, tea. Write for hours and hours on end. Pause periodically to strike up a conversation if you wish to un-fog your brain. When the sun comes up, finish your liquid caffeine and go home.
Of course, you could modify this rather extreme form to a shorter, more reasonable form to fit your particular needs. I know of another group that meets at a restaurant every Sunday afternoon from 3-6 pm. (That one is an hour away, so I haven’t made it there yet.) That kind of sit-in is probably a lot more doable.
I would guess that this is the least threatening. This is you and a friend getting together at your homes, a coffee shop, a restaurant, or anywhere. Sometimes it can be just time to write, brainstorm, problem-solve, or just talk in general about writing.
Online Writing Groups
NaNoWriMo is a great place to meet a myriad of writers online. Particularly during the April and the July NaNos. For those, you get set up in a digital cabin (like a private chatroom) and you get to know one another. You can form your own cabin or ask to be assigned to a cabin with like-minded people. It is great fun! Some people form lasting friendships through these.
There is a bazillion… well okay, hundreds of online places to meet other writers. I’ve met some really lovely people through Facebook pages like I am a Writer with Sarah Werner. There is also Scribophile . I have not tried Scribophile yet, but I’ve thought about it or something similar. I need some Epic Fantasy beta readers. Inked Voices is another one I’ve thought about trying. Some of these have monthly fees, which is what has stopped me from trying them thus far. I’m just not ready to pay yet. There are many more excellent websites.
I’ve met some people on Twitter and Instagram that could be potential critique partners one day. Twitter has a particularly huge writing community. #amwriting will help you find people on both platforms.
If you have tried any of these types of groups, I’d love to hear about it in the comments or through an email.
About Genre in Writing Groups
Finding critiquers that like Epic fantasy has been really hard for me. There are certain expectations that Fantasy readers have which other genre readers don’t like. I’ve had to learn to consider carefully the advice I’ve gotten from non-fantasy readers.
For example, I’ve been told that I need to give more explanation up front. For one story, they were absolutely correct. I rewrote the scene and the story was much better for it.
Another time I got that advice it was not true. Fantasy readers tend to trust that explanations will come along the way. If we explain too much of how the magic system works or world building, in the beginning, it will be boring. Each genre comes with its own expectations. If you read in that genre, you know the expectations best. This will help you know what advice to take, and what advice to dismiss. Do not dismiss their comments just because it is not their genre though.
Critique groups do not have to consist of people who write in your genre. My Social Writing Group is made up of all kinds of writers, from historical fiction, science fiction, mystery, fantasy, thriller, and more. All those writers coming at the writing from a different perspective is a great opportunity to learn!
So if you’ve had a bad experience with one group, give yourself time to lick your wounds. Then get back out there and try another group. Don’t give up until you find the right group or writing buddy for you.