Choosing the Right Writing Group

One of my SMART goals was to join a writing community that actually trades on constructive critique and supports each other in their writing.

I’m thinking either local or online, small number, but all of us writing the same genre or at least a similar audience. For example, I write romance aimed for adults. A writing group where all the other authors are focused on writing YA or middle grade literary, adventure, fantasy, or science fiction wouldn’t be a good fit for me.

But the quandary gave me the idea for this blog post. How does a writer find a writer’s group that is the right fit?

First, some criteria.

Be honest. If you’re looking for a “fan club,” people who will flock around you, come to all your events, buy, read, and review all your books, IMHO, you’d be better starting an author’s page on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, and learning about hashtags.

If you’re seriously looking for a writer’s group to support the process of writing, here are some questions to ask up front, ask once your in, and keep checking about as you continue your participation.

Before you join: What do I want from the group?

Do you already have work(s) in progress? Do you want to live-write with others? Do you need to be able to talk genre specifics with the others in the group? Do you need help finding markets, publishers, readers? Do you want “instructional” classes? Does your content make specific requirements of the audience, such as needing every reader to be 18+, or well-read in fantasy, literary bestsellers, etc.?

The questions you should ask should ferret out the answers to these questions:

What goes on at a typical meeting? Does every author speak? Is there a “ratio” of critiques before you can submit your own work? If WIP are “live written” what’s the meeting space like? (Can you actually write in a coffee shop or do you prefer a silent library group room?) Does the group have different meeting places? Will you be required to “host” from time to time? What genre(s) does everyone in the group write? What’s the experience level, or ages, of the members? Is there a membership fee (perhaps to pay for the space reservation)?

Listen and watch for “tells” signaling discomfort with the question. People uncomfortable answering these questions are probably not too sure about their group’s purpose other than perhaps as a “coffee clatch.” Which might be okay with you, but it also might signal you’re not in the right place.

Final question: can you attend a meeting without making a lifelong (or monetary) commitment first?

At your first meeting: Things to look (and listen) for

There are some archetypes of workshop members (names borrowed from this post) to note:

The Dominator – someone who is directing the conversation, setting the agenda, often without regard for, or only minimal nod toward, the group’s or the meeting’s specific goals.

The Skeptic – someone who is always pooh-poohing ideas. Not particularly constructive, but simply “That’ll never fly in the market.”

The Mouse – a person who is almost exclusively listening, and nodding, during critiques, but seems to either never submit their own thoughts, or only vague ones. Yes, as a newbie this is acceptable, but if there’s a lot of “newbies” in what should seem an established group, you may have discovered a group that’s already been run over by a Dominator and doesn’t know how to critique any more. You’re not going to get much in the way of practicable advice in a group like that.

The Teacher’s Pet – Friendly is important, but obsequious is not helpful. If there’is someone who seems to be “serving” everyone else, or just one person they’re constantly agreeing with, you’ve got one of these in the group. Again, like The Mouse, The Teacher’s Pet isn’t going to be much help to you, unless the leader they’re following likes you and your work, too. You could end up on the wrong side of this person very easily. And you may not even realize when/how it happened.

The Buddy System – There’s always some history in any group you’re coming into, but if there seems to be no one willing to “catch you up” then you are always going to be on the outside. A writer’s group is meant to be a place everyone’s free to be open and honest about themselves and the creative work, but the Buddy System, by definition, is a clique, with criteria to get on the “inside.” And you might just not make it.

There are ways to counter these types and but too many of these personalities in a single group and you’ll probably feel worn out after a meetup rather than energized. And who really wants to be part of a group like that when doing what you love is at stake?

Continuing: Do a Check-In

If you decide that a group sounds and feels right, go ahead and join, but don’t stop looking out for what you need. After every meeting, ask yourself:

1. When you offered critique did it seem like your thoughts were well-received? Did you present them the most thoughtful way possible? Had you had enough time to read the work and give thoughtful feedback?

2. Is the schedule and format of meetings still comfortable? Have you lost any of your own writing time to commit to evaluating others’ work as required?

3. When your work is critiqued, do you feel the advice was actionable? Do you feel it is helping you grow as a person and as a writer?

All of these things are necessary if a writer’s group is going to continue to be a good fit for you.

A final thought on where to search for writing groups: local library, local bookstore, local college or university. Also definitely check meetup.com, search “writing” and pick a drive-radius you’re comfortable with. And here’s the link to a searchable database maintained by Writer’s Relief.

You can also find writer’s groups advertised in Writer’s Digest, and The Writer magazines. You can also search if your state has a writers association (for example, Florida Writer’s Association) and a local chapter. Some genres have national and local chapters of writers groups, so you can connect with writers working on projects in the same genre as you.

Happy hunting! And I hope you find the “write” group for you!

~ Lara

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