The Benefits and Pitfalls of Writers' Groups by Megan Higginson

It's true. Writing can be a lonely profession. But, it doesn't have to be. From face-to-face writer's groups, and critique groups online, you can be part of a thriving and encouraging community of fellow creatives. I call it, The Wonderful Writer's Group.

Sounds good, doesn't it? Is this even possible? If you are an author sitting at home and writing by yourself, I am here to tell you it is. But, oh yes there is a 'but,' be aware of the writer's groups that pretend to be something they are not. There are more than one type that seem like the real deal. But, they aren't. How can you spot the difference if you've never been in a writer's group before now? How do you choose?

I am part of two wonderful writer's groups. One is face-to-face. Dribbles and Scribbles Writer's Group. I love this group. They are my friends. They are honest, loving and encouraging. We are all working together to improve our writing and we inspire each other.

However, though they are primary school teachers and read picture books all the time, I have found it invaluable to be in a critique group where other writers are writing in the same genre as me. I mainly write picture books. Belonging to a critique group like the one through Creative Kids Tales—CKT Writers Workshop—has enabled me to receive feedback from those who are also writing picture books. Picture books have their own rules and you need to follow them. If I was in a group where everyone else was writing epic fantasy, I would be in trouble.

I put out a Shout Out on Facebook and here are some peoples' experiences of their writer's groups, both past and present:

The benefits of Writer's Groups:

Anonymous 1: Great experiences? My favourite writer's group is run by Just Write For Kids Australia It's a positive community for people who write for children.

Debra: We share ideas and industry insights, learning from each other. It's a source of information re events and competitions. It gives me courage to go to events because I'll either have someone to go with or else have someone to report back to - or both. I've certainly done things and gone to events that I wouldn't have if I wasn't a member of my writers group. In fact, I doubt I would have my current publishing contract if not for my writing family.

Marion: I facilitate the writers' group that Debra belongs to at the NSW Writers' Centre. It's an AWESOME, SUPPORTIVE group of PB to YA writers. We meet fortnightly, each member gets 20 mins to read their work (max 1000 words) and receive verbal feedback. We all have a copy of the script to scribble over as well. The members' diverse backgrounds lend to constructive, insightful suggestions. We celebrate the triumphs and commiserate when things don't go to plan ... and our last meeting for the year is a Christmas dinner at the pub where we plan our goals for the following year.

Anonymous 2: I feel that writers' groups work best when there is a clear focus for each gathering - a writing task, or analyzing a piece, or something. Other thing I've noticed is that the most essential thing is to all agree to a culture of kindness towards each other, and to protect kindness vigorously!

Charmaine: I'm with Write Links, they're a fantastic writer's group for children's writers. They meet once a month and each session includes a training session with a guest (or member) presenter, networking round and critiques (we use Dropbox to share our writing).
This is a huge group, small groups are also great to provide social interaction, trusted advice and the push we need to actually write.

Anonymous 3: It's fantastic to have a network of friends and industry connections who all share common goals. I've found the members to be generous with sharing their knowledge, support, and encouragement for their fellow writers. We do other things together outside writer's group. Opportunities have come my way because of the group.

My writer's group motivates me. It's great to have a group of people to talk to about your own progress and share updates with. And it's valuable to be surrounded by motivated people who have inspirational work ethics.

I belong to more than one writer's group. Each writer's group has its own dynamics and main focus, for example; some focus mainly on preparing work for publication, some on freelance writing, others focus on marketing and platform building for authors or bloggers. Some groups focus on specific genres. So not only is it worth joining different groups to learn and share relevant information, it's also great for expanding your network.

Every writer has different writing goals so finding the writing groups that are a good 'fit' for helping you reach your goals can be very helpful.

Katrina: I'm in the same group as Nat. We've built trust and respect as we've evolved as a group over the last few years. We love positive feedback and respect suggestions for improvement. And we don't always agree and that's absolutely fine. We also love how we see each other's work differently. We also believe learning how to critique others has helped us in our own writing. And feedback that makes you think about your work or question it is very valuable, even if you don't agree with it. It just has to make you question yourself, look at things with fresh eyes.

Anonymous 4:

We are advocates for each other's work, and we celebrate achievements - It's like having my own personal fan club. We share ideas and industry insights, learning from each other. It's a source of information re events and competitions. It gives me courage to go to events because I'll either have someone to go with or else have someone to report back to - or both

I've certainly done things and gone to events that I wouldn't have if I wasn't a member of my writers group. In fact, I doubt I would have my current publishing contract if not for my writing family.

Alison: Excellent professional development, rich networking, and steady critique groups. It is a cheer squad, a haven for growth and consolation, and a vibrant community. It's my tribe!

The Pitfalls of Writer's Groups:

Anonymous 1: What have been some pitfalls? Bad experiences? I joined one online that was quite negative - it seemed to mostly be writers insulting each other. The insults were of course well worded but nothing much else seemed to happen there. It's important to find a writer's group that suits you, there are so many and they are all different.

Marion: Only pitfall (in my writer's group) is going over the (allotted) 20 mins, as we all need to have equal time.

Anonymous 2: I was in a writers' group where people just waffled on and on and on... Being a teacher by trade it drove me nuts because I just wanted someone to take the lead and interrupt and move things on. Since others were "leading" it was too awkward to jump in myself!

It seems that, overall, writer's groups are a good thing. To spot the bad ones quickly, you need to know what a good writer's group looks like, and if it will be a good fit for you.

Here's what to ask yourself:

Are the people in this group willing to share ideas and industry insights? Or do they keep it all to themselves, hoarding it like a dragon hoards and protects its gold?

Are they willing to learn from each other? Or, do they get sulky if offered helpful advice?

Is it a source of information regarding events and competitions? Or are the group members so closed minded that they don't even look for opportunities?

Do the group members give helpful and insightful feedback? Or are the critiques designed to cut the receiver to shreds and leave them in tears?

Do group members celebrate the triumphs and be each other's cheer squad and commiserate when things don't go to plan? Or do they look at others with disdain when another wins a competition, and they can barely hide their glee when others get rejected?

Is it a well-run group where everyone rocks up ready to get down to business? Or does the group have a power hungry maniac in the disguise of a group leader, that waffles on, and on, and on, and nothing is accomplished?

Are the group members writing in a similar genre to you? Can they give you helpful feedback? Or is your focus picture books, and the rest of the group is writing adult horror? As an author friend recently said to me, 'Every writer has different writing goals so finding the writing groups that are a good 'fit' for helping you reach your goals can be very helpful.'

Holly Lisle, an author and blogger from the USA has written a great blog post about choosing a writer's group in, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Or How to Choose a Writer's Group. She goes into even greater depth than I have here and gives you some other pointers to watch out for when choosing a writer's group.

Don't forget, you are not restricted to belonging to one writer's group. You can belong to as many as you like, as long as you are able to fulfil your own obligations, each group is fulfilling a writing need, and you have the time.

And I have to agree with Holly on this. "If it isn't fun, if it doesn't add something positive to your life, don't waste your time." Holly Lisle

Go forth, fellow writer's. I feel confident in sending you out into the wild in search of the elusive Wonderful Writer's Group. You have been given the tools. You know what to look for. Have fun, and happy writing.

If you want to know about why belonging to a writer's group is great, or how to start your own, check out my previous post. 

​Take a Course, You'll Thank Me by Zoe Gaetjens
​Stop Faffing About! by Eileen Magee

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Sunday, 16 December 2018

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