In one of those strange twists of serendipity, the question of writers’ groups and support for the solitary author has come up a few times this week.
First, Valerie and I received a query for our podcast So You Want To Be A Writer (and thank you to everyone who’s been listening and writing in – we reached number 13 of all podcasts in Australia last week!).
Then, when I asked on Facebook whether anyone had a burning question about writing they wanted answered, it came up again.
So, should you join a writers’ group?
I can only outline my experience with them and leave you to make that decision… but (spoiler alert), overall, I say “heck, yes!” (with a caveat or two).
Writers’ groups have many faces
I’ve never been a member of a face-to-face writers’ group. That is, I’ve never got together every week or month with the same group of people to read over and critique each others’ work.
I have writer friends who meet regularly with the same group, drink wine, critique, get inspired, get motivated and go home and get writing. My main reason for not doing this is that I’m just not that great at groups (see my thoughts on bookclubs here). I’m also not that great at commitment. The idea of having to go to writers’ group every month is not for me.
Which is not to say that I don’t have a group, because I do – and I would not be without them.
What style of writers’ group do you want?
For me, the point of a writers’ group is feedback on your work when you need it. It’s also cheerleading you to through the horribly lonely process of getting a novel down on paper. And, sometimes, it’s beating you over the head when your self-doubt gets the better of you and you feel you can’t go on.
That’s what my writers’ group does for me. We are a loose co-operative of writers at various stages of our careers. Some are published, some are not. Some are people who talk me off the ceiling when I’m stressed and anxious and ready to chuck it all in. Others are people for whom I do that.
They don’t all know each other, but they all know me.
Respect, empathy and boundaries
In the earliest days of the group, I met one woman at a conference and another online through Romance Writers’ Australia. We used to upload 2000 words a month to an online forum and give each other feedback. There were others in our group, but we three clicked and gelled and seemed to understand each others’ words.
That’s what you need. People who understand what you’re trying to do and are not afraid to tell you when it’s not working. What you don’t need are people who will pick apart every single thing you write because it’s not what they would have written. There needs to be respect, empathy and boundaries.
If you are going to join a group, or start a group, put those boundaries upfront. Do you want a blow by blow line edit of your work? Do you want to get feedback on voice? Do you want to know if your characters are real? Do you just want someone to tell you that you’re doing a great job?
We all want different things from a writers’ group and the group will only work if your motivations align.
Should you join a writers’ group?
These days, my writers’ group is very informal – the original three and assorted others. We talk to each other regularly about where we’re up to. We still read for each other when we’re asked. The members of my gang swing in and out, depending on who’s working on what.
So, back to the original question: should you join a writers’ group? I say yes. Assuming that all members of the group understand the boundaries. That all members of the group are willing to put in the work required – that is, to read the 2000 words in advance if necessary, to give feedback if necessary, to be prepared if necessary.
How to find your writers’ group
How do you find these people? Look for people who are writing what you write. If you’re writing fiction for women (and, my, that is such a loose term, isn’t it?), an organisation like the Romance Writers’ of Australia is a great place to begin, for both face-to-face and online groups.
Many of the state Writers’ Centres offer writers’ group introductions across many different genres and styles, and, as Valerie said in Episode 11 of our podcast, many of the people who meet through Australian Writers’ Centre courses go on to create writers’ groups of their own. Try your local library as a starting point as well.
You can also find people through your own networking – Twitter is a great place to meet other writers – look for hashtags such as #pblitchat (children’s book authors) to find like-minded writers.
Some writers’ groups simply get together to talk about writing, and that can work, too. Though I will say that one bonus of my original online group was that it ensured we were writing at least 2000 words each month.
Sometimes that’s all you need to get from a writers’ group – the incentive to write.
Are you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait and you can find out more about me here and more about my online writing courses here.
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Interesting post, Allison : ) A co-worker and I started a writers group at the library early last year and it was one of the best decisions we have made. We have a range of people in the group, from beginners to published writers who write in various genres. The benefits of the group are exactly what you said- feedback and cheerleading. I love the fact that once a month I can meet with a bunch of like-minded people and talk about writing for two hours straight. I also love the kindness and support shared throughout the group- writing can be lonely and daunting, and sometimes you just need someone (other than your husband) to tell you to keep going! : )
That sounds like the very best kind of writers’ group!
Great post! My feeling is that groups need goodwill, good communication, boundaries and mutual respect. It’s all a matter of balance – too much group attendance can actually interfere with getting the words down, but just the right amount (different for everyone) can help us feel connected to the writing world. As far as the writing itself goes, the occasional workshop helps, I find.
All great points, Iris. Thanks!
I’m a member of a couple of online groups which have been instrumental to my journey as both a freelance writer and a novelist. I would love to do the AWC mentorship program one day too.
I hope you get to do it Jodi – it’s a great program!
I’ve been in and out of writing groups–mostly because of corporate moves, but sometimes because groups can be toxic. You pointed out the key to a good group: boundaries. Every writer needs encouragement and objective direction. For anyone who lives in an area where writers are scarce, online groups can be a lifeline. In addition, consider entering some of the RWA chapter contests. You may consider some of the feedback constructive and some, not so much. After you’ve experienced it, try volunteering as a judge. You can learn a lot about writing (and developing constructive criticism) by analyzing another writer’s work with a score sheet in hand.
Great comments Chris – and so true!
It’s really worth it if you find a group that suits your needs and as you said ‘understand the boundaries’. I have two young children, so like you an online writers’ support groups has assisted me in reaching writing goals.
Yes, with young children online is definitely the way forward!
I’m doing the 6th month Novel writing course at AWC with Pamela Freeman. It’s an amazing group. I’ve learnt just as much from workshopping the other writers as I have from workshopping my own book.
I’m also in the AWC’s pilot writers workshop group – again, I’m learning just as much from reading and reviewing other people’s writing as I am my own.
It’s so difficult to judge your own work sometimes – having other people read your WIP isn’t just about finding out what’s wrong – it’s also about discovering what’s good about your work. That’s important to learn as well…
So I recommend every aspirational writer get involved in some form of writers group, or to find a mentor. You’ll need it, whether you realise it not.
That’s a great course and such a safe environment in which to try new things and get feedback. Go you!
Loved what you said about people picking it apart because it was not what “they” would have written. This happened to me in a group I joined – there were two people who just were so insular and overly critical towards everyone and I left after the third meet … exhausted and deflated. Would I join another – like you, I am not very big on formality (possibly why I was unsuited to the legal profession :-)) but a casual semi regular group sounds like something I need at this fledgling stage in my craft.
I think it’s definitely about the dynamic of the group and what you want from it. Look for people you trust with your work.