Should I join a writers’ group?

writersgroupallisontaitIn 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!) and 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).

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.

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. 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.

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 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. 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 a member of a writers’ group? How does it work for you?