Five Reasons You Need A Writing Group
And four reasons you might not. Oh, and a book blurb!
Right now, I'm sitting in a coffee shop in downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico. The drive here was a glorious eye-feast of post-storm snow beauty and a feels-like temperature of zero.
What would get me out in such cold weather? One is the utter beauty of Santa Fe with its earthy, warm adobe buildings against a bright blue sky and snow-covered mountains. On my drive here, the sun danced off the snow-frosted pine trees. In short, I knew it would be a gorgeous drive.
The second reason I came out was to meet in person with my writing group of two. We tend to meet every other week, and though it's not a daily ritual, it's crucial to my writing. There's only one other person right now, but that's enough to keep me grounded in my practice.
We want to grow but are happy to wait until we find the right person or people. Growing a group slowly is best.
For those of you who've considered joining a writing group, let's consider the pros and cons.
Types of Writing Groups
Okay, this is obvious, but in case you're wondering - a writing group is a gathering of individuals to write, discuss writing, critique work, or any combination thereof.
Many groups are open to any writer or writing. Still, many are niched and geared to people working in a particular area or demographic. The various types of groups include:
Genre-specific groups are geared to a particular type of writing, including:
Fiction (This can be broken down into sci-fi and fantasy, romance, historical, etc.)
Writing for children
Any genre of writing falls into this category. Having a focus allows everyone to drill down into their preferred area of interest.
Some writers are interested in a particular type of get-together that's set up in specific ways, such as:
Timed writing. Timed writing is what it implies - members work for a certain amount of time and then take a short break. Some groups do twenty minutes of writing and a five-minute break. Others write for forty-five minutes or more before a break.
Prompts. For writers who don't have a specific work-in-progress, or for anyone who might feel blocked, prompts are a great way to get the creative juices going. An idea is read aloud at the start of the meeting, and writers write about it. For example, "What color are you today and why?" or "Turn your food from breakfast into characters and write about their morning."
Straight writing. Gatherings usually start with ten to fifteen minutes of socializing, and then each member writes in silence. Never underestimate the power of shared writing time.
Critique or feedback meetings. With a feedback group, a couple writers share their work a week or two in advance. Other members read the work and come to the next meeting with constructive feedback. I have more information on critique groups in my previous article, "Writing is a Team Sport."
Any combination of the above. Many groups use a combination of the above. One group I've heard about in Santa Fe does improv before sitting down to write. I want to join them!
If you're looking for a writing group, determine what you want in advance. For example, I'm on the first rewrite of my new novel. I'm nowhere near ready to share the work or get feedback because it's still a creative word jumble falling from my head.
I've also found I don't like timed writing. I'm more of a sit-down-and-get-it-done kind of person. Studies have shown it's difficult to concentrate well after ninety or so minutes, so I have a little break every hour and a half or two hours.
A writing group geared toward a specific demographic is not about being exclusionary. It's about individuals with similar backgrounds connecting and understanding each other's life experiences. It's about having a particular tribe, as Seth Godin would call it.
I grew up in an era where women were second to men in school, work, and many things. (If you don't know, it's still a problem in many places.) My online writer's room group is for those who identify as women and are over forty.
Because of my upbringing, I tend to defer to a male's opinion, and I'm not always myself when men are around. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against my male counterparts - I tend to diminish myself and have more insecurities when they're in the mix. So I choose to be in a women's group.
Types of demographic-specific groups include:
If you feel more comfortable writing with under thirty males or Eastern European poets, don't be afraid to look for a group of aligned people. With so many online gatherings these days, you should be able to find a group for anything. And if you can't, start your own!
One last consideration is the experience level of the members. If you’re a beginning writer, you might feel uncomfortable in a group with published authors and vice versa. So also keep that in mind.
Why Join a Writing Group
Writing is a solo activity. Humans are social animals. So finding a writing group makes sense. But before you join, you should weigh out the pros and cons.
You build community and make friends with other writers. Not everyone wants to attend book readings or literary festivals, but your writing group might. It's a great way to grow your social circles.
You'll get understanding and support. Does anyone care about your obsession over sentence length or your angst over your main character not coming to life enough? Probably not - unless they're a writer.
As you progress in your writing life, having a network of writers is invaluable. You never know how you can help each other as you publish and move further into your career.
A group helps keep you accountable to your writing and your deadlines.
You can learn more about the writing craft from other people's tips and experiences.
The mix of people is essential, so you need to make sure you sync with others. Personality clashes can make a group torturous.
Know your tolerance for feedback. If you find the critiques cutthroat, it can make you less secure about your work.
Make sure you have the time to read other people's work and can give constructive feedback if you join a critique group. It can be time-consuming.
If there isn't a defined leader, you might lose focus and end up with chat sessions and not get work done.
Knowing your preferences can take trial and error, but it helps to know what you want from a group before you join. So don't write alone! Do a little research, figure out what you want from a group, and go out and find one.
Rock Gods & Messy Monsters
Rock Gods & Messy Monsters is currently on NetGalley, a book distribution site for reviewers and journalists. I wanted to share a recent review with you…
Fae K., NetGalley Review, February 2023
“This book is wild! I've never done drugs but I feel like I went on a trip with this story in the best way. It's completely absurd satire and I love it! I feel like this book would be brilliant for a book club/reading club because I think it will bring up lots of talking points. We literally open up with the main character, Alex, removing their brain.
I do wish there was more building as everything is so over-the-top whacky yet I don't fully know much about the world. Go into this with an open mind, expect quite over the top and crazy. I love it. It was an interesting read overall and would read it again for sure.
At 208 pages this is a quick read and definitely worth people's time for something out of the box and refreshing away from the usual book genres out there right now.”
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Nice breakdown of writer groups. I’d include level of experience as a parsing factor for determining if a group is a good fit. I’ve written about writing syndicates over at conked.io and the novel I’m serialising there is about a heart transplant survivor who runs a writers syndicate that’s been featured in the NY Times. My group Wishlist = small, no more than 6, fiction preferably crime thriller and/or psychological thriller novel not short story focused, pro level writers with passion, not weekend warriors And a critique focus not timed writing or prompt generating. No age or gender specificity nor geographic location or academic qualification - are you out there?