Part 1: Things to Consider Before Forming or Joining
One of the greatest instruments in a writer’s toolbox is the writers’ group. This is a wonderful way to gain useful feedback on your work, develop your own critiquing abilities, and grow as a writer. Yet this doesn’t happen automatically when you join a writers’ group—it’s important to join up with the right mix of people. I have some experience in forming, joining, and yes, even leaving writers’ groups. Here are things to consider before forming or becoming part of a writing circle:
1. What is the goal of each member? It’s important that you’re all on the same page for an end goal. If your goal is publication, and you have members that just want to write, you may start to feel that critiquing their work is a waste of your time—after all, if they’re only going to file their stories away in a dusty box, never to be seen again, who cares if they’re in the best shape they can be? Plus, one big advantage of a writers’ group is the sharing of resources. Someone who is writing just to write is not going to be concerned with open markets, recommended editors and publishers, or online marketing tips, for example, and may not bring much of what you value to the group.
2. How many years has each member been writing? I enjoy groups that have a nice mix of newer and more experienced members. The more experienced writers offer great insight in the market and the experience of being an author; the newer writers offer a fresh perspective, new techniques that weren’t out there when I started writing, and an optimism that has sometimes been dulled in authors with more years behind them. If you have a group of all newbies, they may need more help in crafting and developing their writing, and just won’t know some of the best practices out there. If you have a gathering of all experienced writers, you may find yourself amidst a sea of egos, all of them thinking they don’t need editing or critique or advice. I’d strongly encourage you to look for a solid ratio of both.
3. How many people are in the group? Remember, in addition to submitting for each meeting, you’ll be reading and critiquing each member’s submission. That takes time. If you have twenty people in your group, and you’re all submitting every week, you’ll be too busy providing feedback to all of them to get any of your own writing done. Carefully consider how much time and energy you are willing and able to commit before joining a large group. Conversely, if there are only three of you, you’re only getting the points of view of two other writers. You may want to join a larger group or invite more people to join to expand your horizons. Personally, I’ve found five or six members works well. This offers diversity in feedback, doesn’t overburden each member with reading, and is generally quite manageable.
4. What genres do the other members write in? It’s certainly fine to hold court with a variety of genre writers . . . within limits. Being in a group with authors who wrote horror, sci-fi, nonfiction, and general fiction was great, because we could provide general critique, were able to read something outside our own genre each meeting, and were all willing to expand our horizons. But it had its limitations: there was less sharing of open markets, because they weren’t applicable to more than one person in the group. Genre-specific events or retreats were attended individually, instead of together. And when a poet tried to join our merry band of non-poets, it did not go well. None of us could provide any sort of helpful feedback.
Ideally, you want to be in a group that writes in the same genre, because your shared knowledge and experience would be helpful to all. But don’t be to quick to discount the nonfiction author or sci-fi writer who wants to join. They’ll have different experiences than you, will introduce you to a different prose style, and could help you grow as a writer.
Now that you know what you’re looking for in a group, it’s time to consider the next step: what will your group do? Stay tuned for Part II, where we’ll explore that very topic next week!
Stacey Longo is the author of Ordinary Boy (nominated for a Pushcart Prize) and Secret Things: Twelve Tales to Terrify. Most recently, her novella “Brando and Bad Choices” appeared in Triplicity: The Terror Project, Volume 1. Her stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, including Shroud, Shock Totem, and the Litchfield Literary Review.
She is a past Hiram Award winner, and was a featured author on the 2014 Connecticut Authors Trail. A former humor columnist for the Block Island Times, she maintains a weekly humor blog at www.staceylongo.com.