I coach a lot of writers who were once students, and after the class is finished, many want to continue working with other writers in a dynamic group setting.
And so the search for a writers’ group begins. I have belonged to numerous such groups over the years, and have just now joined one in my new hometown of Haverhill, Massachusetts. I am always asked, how do you go about finding a good writers’ group?
First, get clear on your intentions. What are you looking for in a group? There are different types of groups. Do you want a tough critical group that’ll whip your writing into shape? Do you want a group focused on publishing only? Do you want a group where philosophical issues are discussed and debated? Do you want a gentle group? Write down a list of what you want, so you’ll know when you’ve found it.
The group I have just joined bills itself as a support group, not a critique group. On Thursday nights we meet at the library. Each week, a different person facilitates. To begin the session, every participant gives their news of the week, writing successes and failures, etc. The facilitator asks how many people have work to read. He or she then divides up the time, so that each person gets about 15 minutes.
And we read. Afterwards, no one critiques. People simply say what they liked and suggest places for publication.
One of the issues I have, and many new writers tell me they have, is being in a group of writers where critique is given, but I do not know whose advice to trust. The person giving the advice isn’t an instructor, and they haven’t necessarily been published very much, and anyway, my style may be so different from their style that their critique doesn’t apply to me. How am I to know what to do?
Whose advice do I take and whose advice do I ignore? It’s a big issue, one that many new writers face when they join a group. I tell writers to just listen to the advice that resonates — the feedback that stays with them over the next day or two. Also, if there’s a section you had problems with and others have problems with, then it doesn’t matter if you listen to specific advice or not, you simply know that the section does need work.
At any rate, know that you will take wrong advice; no writers’ group is perfect, and you are still finding your own voice, so there’s no way around it. You will get confused. You will change perfectly good prose. So factor into the equation that you’ll make mistakes, and let that be OK. It’s a process, and you’ll grow in confidence and assurance.
Also note that a writers’ group is full of different types of people, with different tastes. Please go into the group knowing this, and be open to it. Don’t expect the group to fit exactly the way you write, your tastes and style. It’s better to loosen your expectations, to see what positive things are coming out the situation, to appreciate those, and to not demand and/or expect the group to be a certain fixed way.
Also, consider what you can do for the group, not just what the group can do for you. You will receive what you give, so be ready to listen carefully to other writers when they’re reading, and provide support.
So first, to locate groups in your area: go to the library, to bookstores, log onto Craig’s list and/or visit your local writing centers. Look on their bulletin boards for postings.
Here are some further tips:
• Visit different groups, and on the first day, sit quietly and listen. Witness. Observe. See if the energy is right for you.
• How long has the group been around? A group that’s been around longer, may be more stable, but they also may be more set in their ways. A new group might be exciting, or it might not last. Oftentimes, students from one of my classes have gotten together to form a group. Could you start your own?
• Watch to see if the members are respectful of each other. Do they critique harshly? Gently?
• Does everyone who wants to get a chance to read?
• What genres are supported? Mystery? Literary fiction? Is the group respectful of different genres? Do you like a mix of different styles of writing, or would you rather have everyone on the same page?
• How often do they meet? Once a week is best for consistency, but may be too often if you are busy.
• How long have the writers been writing? I like a mix, those who are newer than I am, and people who are much further along, so that I can feel supportive and supported.
• Are there writers there who are not writing? My shortest lived groups were always full of stuck writers. Don’t be around stuck writers.
• What are the ages of the members? I have found the most luck with people who are close to my age because I like the maturity factor. What would be right for you?
• Are some of the writers getting published? There’s no better motivation for your own publication than other writers making you jealous.
• Finally, do not stay in a group if you don’t like it. It’s OK to move on. Do this gently and respectfully.
If you can’t find the right group right away, keep looking. Don’t give up. The rewards of being with like-minded souls, feeling nurtured in your art, and being exposed to the energy of other writers can be profound and transformational.
On the other hand, it’s also OK to not want to be part of a group, to write alone, to only show your work to a small group of trusted friends. Many writers throughout history have done this as well.
Whatever you choose, find what you need to help your writing flow, to help you get your voice out into the world. We need to hear your beautiful prose! www.artofstorytellingonline.com