Writers' Groups. Why be in One? How do You Start One? by Megan Higginson
What is a writers' group? Is it necessary to be part of one? How do you find one? Can you set one up yourself? What does it take to set up and run a great writers' group?
I love my Writers' Group. We are a group of friends who discovered each other in the last two to four years. We found out that we loved writing, and each of us had at least one W.I.P. (Work in Progress). Initially, we met together and shared what we had worked on the previous month, and then we'd spend time writing together. Though at first we were hesitant in giving feedback and unsure how to give constructive feedback, over time we learnt to give good constructive feedback.
We now meet once a month. Each of us takes it in turns to run a mini workshop on something we may struggle with. Each of us are in the aspiring to emerging author phase; we have much to learn. The workshops are always fun and we always come away challenged to improve our writing. One or more may share what we have written, and then, if requested, will receive specific feedback.
Why should you start, or be part, of a writers' group?
I know I would not be where I am today in my career as an emerging author without the feedback, support, and encouragement of my fellow writers' group members. My writers' group keep me accountable. I always want something new to bring to the group and I am challenged to improve my writing. I love the sharing, the collaboration and being inspired by our time together.
I placed a shout out on Facebook earlier this week, asking other authors what their experiences have been with writers' groups. Here is what they had to say.
Aleesah: 'Writers groups are awesome!'
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. The small groups can be difficult to keep running if you have a few people away or drop out, it can just fizzle.'
Rae: 'Since 2001 I've been a member of four different writers' groups. The first was the local FAW where I met several others who are still in my life. It was the perfect introduction for me as a newbie writer and I felt like I'd come home to people who knew me. It had fees, a monthly meeting with an agenda and minutes and a mixed bag of writers. Over a couple of years and due to the different levels and requirements of the group, I outgrew them and moved on.
Next was a creative writing group held in the home of one of the writers from the first group. We've been meeting monthly since 2004 with a regular nucleus of historical writers, memoir, children's writers and poets. We share, support and encourage each other and our writing. At times we have writing exercises to improve or update our skills.
The third, which celebrated our tenth anniversary last year, met in the toilets at the NSW Writers' Centre at an editing workshop. We're all specifically children's and YA writers and we've had varying degrees of publishing and competition success and while we still focus on writing, we've become close friends. Three of the five of us launched The Secret Door competition last year as a way to help other newbie writers and to extend the feeling of a writing group to others with support, information and encouragement.
The fourth group is smaller and has aspects of the other three. The three I'm still involved with all have a steady supply of chocolate and cheese and other snacks on hand for sustenance, ha-ha. Each group serves a different purpose for me but ultimately they all help me connect to writing with people who are like minded and want to progress. We share and care and I wouldn't want anything to change. I'm sure there have been pitfalls but to be honest, they didn't leave enough of an impression on me when the benefits are so great.'
Anon: '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 things together outside writers' group, and opportunities have come my way because of it. I'm motivated because I have people to talk to about [my] own progress and can share updates with. And it's valuable to be surrounded by motivated people who have inspirational work ethics.'
Some belong to more than one writers' group at a time. This is due to each writer's group having its own dynamics and main focus.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.'
Another unexpected place to connect with other authors and receive feedback is, according to Brydie, Goodreads. 'Apart from JWFK and CKT which are great groups with useful forums for members, I've joined some groups for independent authors on Goodreads. Some of the member discussion threads have brought me into contact with great independent authors offering book reviews and various promotions. It's a great channel for receiving assistance but also reciprocating! We are all trying to build our author platforms.'
Debra: It challenges me to have something ready each fortnight to present. Seeing the work of others in the group is inspiring. Hearing the feedback encourages me to improve my work. We are advocates for each other's work, and we celebrate achievements - It's like having my own personal fan club.'
Nat: 'We have a fantastic children's writer's group and meet once a month. We email each other our stories a week out and print off to write feedback on for the writer. Then we go through each story one by one and discuss.
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.'
6 Reasons to belong to a Writers' Group
1. Honest and constructive critique within a positive structure.
2. Group members can be a source for ideas. They can offer writing assignments and prompts (Like mine does holding mini workshops). This can motivate and encourage you to become a better writer.
3. You learn new skills from others, especially if they are further along on their writing journey then you are.
4. Others in the group may find out about conferences, workshops, and contests you are not familiar. This may lead to opportunities you may otherwise not have had.
5. A few writers' groups publish their own anthologies.
6. One of the most rewarding benefits is the joy of sharing, collaborating, and forming friendships. Writing can be a solitary occupation, unless you are in a writers' group, or connected in another way. In a writers' group you can experience friendships which go beyond the group. I've gone to workshops, camps, and conferences with my writers' group friends.
So, what about you? If you don't belong to a writers' group, you could do what my friends and I did, and set up your own.
How to set up your own writers' group
According to Writer's Victoria the best place to begin is:
'Firstly, it is important to consider what the initial purpose of your writing group is. Writing groups exist for a range of different reasons, and it is important to think about what you want to get out of it.
- What do I want to get out of a writing group?
- What are my own writing goals?
- How will a writing group assist me?
- Will the group share and critique each other's work?
- Will the group provide a quiet space for writing and/or writing exercises?
These questions will help you establish an initial scope for your writing group and determine what it is your writing group may do. As the group begins to form this scope may change, but it is important to begin by knowing at least broadly what it is you would like to get out of your group.'
To find out more, Writer's Victoria has a Download: Setting up a Writing Group (PDF) which goes into detail how to set up a writing group so that the group will perform well.
My group meets monthly, and we rotate meeting at each other's homes and the occasional café. This suits us due to our various members' work and family commitments. Whoever is hosting runs a mini writing workshop. This works well for us, yet it may not suit another group of people.
There are plenty of critique groups online if meeting face to face is impossible, or just not your cup of tea. Though there may be other reasons for you to join an online critique group.
I have found it invaluable to be in a critique group where other writers are writing in the same genre as I do. I usually write picture books. Picture books require their own rules and you need to follow them. To that end, I also belong to a wonderful critique group through Creative Kids Tales, CKT Writer's Workshop. This group has enabled me to give and receive feedback from those who are writing for children. If I were in a group where everyone else was writing epic fantasy or horror, I may be in trouble. It is important to be in the right writers' group for you to have the best experience, and to help you grow as a writer.
This blog post may be a couple of years old, however it is still relevant. Allison Tait answers the question, 'Should I Join a Writers' Group?
To see how one writers' group works, Paula Stevenson describes her writers' group, The Warrah Writers.
Are you a member of a writers' group? How does it work for you?
Thanks for this great post Megan. I would love to be part of a writers' group for children's authors. If anyone knows of one in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, or central Melbourne, I would love to hear from you. Thanks.
Apart from the CKT Workshop, a private Facebook critique group which I'm sure you've read about on the CKT Website, there are the FAW, the Sydney and Australian Writer's Centres and SCBWI websites which would be able to advise on writers groups in your area. Thanks for a detailed and interesting article Megan.
You could contact your State library or local library for details of writers groups, some of whom may use library meeting rooms. In Brisbane, Book Links Inc, a centre for children's literature, and Write Links Kids & YA Book Writers meet regularly in Queensland State Library. I am sure there would be something similar in Melbourne.