The writing life is hard. Anyone who writes seriously, hoping to do it for a long period, needs support, and this is where a writing group comes in. We all have an image of a writing group in a home or a cafe, tea and snacks on the table, a bunch of writers chatting away.
To identify the writing group that is ideal for you, we need to briefly discuss the kinds of writing groups out there:
- Critique groups: As the name suggests, these are groups where critiques are exchanged. Individual groups have their own rules, but basically, the group reads the work of some of its members, and offers feedback–this could be online and offline. These can be very useful for aspiring writers, because critiquing another writer’s work is a great way to see areas of improvement in one’s own.
- Write-in groups: In these groups, a bunch of people get together and write. This takes place around online events like Nanowrimo, and is a great way not just to stay motivated, but also to find a good community. These can be online or offline–and weird though it sounds, an online group can be just as effective at sustaining motivation as an offline one.
- Shoot the breeze groups: These are groups where writers get together and chat about all things writing. These can be good to let off steam, get good advice, and often can also lead to critique exchanges and write-ins. Of course a lot of Facebook groups for writers are just this, but it can be pretty fun offline, because writers tend to be reclusive and this gives an opportunity for meeting people who get you.
As a writer, you’ll need to experiment with various groups before you find the one that fits you.
A few ways to locate such book groups:
An online search on book groups: Check out online whether writing groups exist in your locality–a library, or even community bookshops would often host these events. A lot of large online writing groups have offline chapters in different towns and cities. They hold reading events and book launches.
Go for readings and book events: This is where you meet other writers, chat with them and figure whether they are part of writing groups.
Attend classes and workshops: Both online and offline, this can be a great way to land yourself in a critique group or even to create your own. Writers critique each others’ work at these workshops and you’ll get a feel for someone’s critiquing style, whether they would be a fit for you and your work, and if they’d be interested in your feedback.
Depending on what you want out of a writing group, you can choose the kind of group that will help you. Here are a few pointers for finding the writing group that’s right for you:
- You might experiment with trying to find the group where the level of craft and talent is slightly higher than yours. It can lead you to learn more, get motivated, and receive useful critiques.
- Invite those you’ve attended a workshop with to swap critiques, and form a critique group that way. Creating a critique group can demand some investment in time and effort, but if you get a group of people who work well together, it will be worth it.
- Participate in write-ins–this can be very productive during the early drafting stages of a novel, when you’re trying to get the words down in order to rewrites/edit later. Make sure to have scheduled times for interaction, and for writing.
- It is important that the personalities in the group match yours. If you feel burdened or uncomfortable in a group, maybe it is a hint to keep looking. Do not hesitate to leave groups that do not work for you.
- In a critique group, give out constructive criticism sandwiches–What you Loved, Areas of Improvement, and end with What you Loved.
- It is as important to list out positives as to suggest improvements–treat other writers as you would like to be treated. Your critique should motivate the one receiving the critique–they should feel excited about hitting the next draft, while having enough useful points to work on.
- When giving a critique, how you phrase it is just as important as what you say.
- A group can be anything between three and 12. Larger groups tend to scatter, but the advantage is that you always have a quorum of writers to make a workshop viable.
- Rules are important. Writers don’t do well with them, but a little structure and manners go a long way in making it a pleasant and productive experience for all.
- Bottomline: be supportive. The writing life is hard. When you’re nice, people notice. That goes the other way, too. A group of generous people is a happy place.
I’ve been in many writing groups online and offline over the years, but the one that has made the most impact is online. I have a wonderful relationship with the writers in the group, who hail from all over the world, and some of us help run the Forge Literary magazine.
When my debut novel You Beneath Your Skin was in its earlier drafts, I received incisive feedback form the Forge group that helped me not just polish up the story but also get longlisted for the Bath and Mslexia unpublished novel awards. When the drafts neared their final state, many members of the group helped read it and pointed out copyedits and proofing errors that helped improve the language.
For me, writing groups have been a godsend, helping me improve my craft and tell my stories the way I want. Are you part of a writing group? What is it like? If not, what sort of writing group would you like?
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