What is a writing group?
A writing group is a gathering of people for the purpose of critiquing each other’s writing. This is a fairly common practice among beginning fiction writers, but other writers can learn from it, too. Writing groups can be as small as a few people or they can be as large as 20 or so, but my thinking is anything beyond that becomes unwieldy.
Some universities offer creative writing classes which basically act as writing groups. Sometimes informal community writing groups gather every so often at a book store or coffee house, and often they will advertise online or maybe even have a Web page. Other writing groups are just friends getting together. And you can always start your own writing group.
How do writing groups work? It’s different for each group. Some gather once a week or once a month. Others gather several times a week, or maybe only a few times a year. Until about 20 years ago, most writing groups were done in person in a classroom or at a restaurant or someone’s house or anyplace where the group could gather. Today, in the digital era, many groups just get together online.
Again, each group works differently. In some groups, at each gathering each individual writer will bring a sample of their work (often a short story or a chapter from a novel in progress) and will trade off with the other writers; then everyone will spend the week reading all the new stories and will offer comments at the next gathering. In other groups, the writers take turns, this week maybe one or two people only will bring writing samples, then the group spends a little while reading the stuff and then offers a critique. Of course there are other ways to set up writing groups. Really, it’s whatever works best for you.
The good about writing groups
There are many positive aspects to being part of a writing group. Most noticeably, other people are getting an opportunity to see your work and you get to hear their opinions about it. This will let you know in a subjective sense about how well you are doing as a writer. In turn, this should help you become a better writer, especially if you are fortunate enough to be in a group where you can summit rewrites, allowing you to judge your growth as a writer (at least on a particular piece of your writing).
Writing groups also allow writers to network with one another and to become friendly with one another. Writing can be quite solitary, so sometimes it’s good to just get out of the house with some people you like. And once you get to submitting short stories or novels to editors, the more people you know in the business, the better off you’ll be. An editor or publisher who might be on the fence about accepting a story is much more likely to say “yes” to someone with whom they’re familiar; it’s just human nature.
The bad about writing groups
Writing groups aren’t for everyone. And even when you do feel the need for a writing group, you might not always enjoy the one of which you are a part. Sometimes you outgrow your writing group; you’re just a better writer than the rest of the pack. Sometimes you altogether outgrow the need for a writing group because your craft has grown to the point where you feel comfortable with your skills, and you’re getting enough feedback from editors and publishers to satisfy your needs for quality control.
Unfortunately, sometimes a writing group is just plain bad. It might not be the whole group, but then again, it might. Sometimes groups get carried away with minutia that doesn’t really help the writers much. Other times, one or a few individuals take too much control of a group and can skew it in an unhelpful direction, though this is rarely intentional.
Some writing groups do very little critiquing and are really more of just a gathering of friends or professionals. That kind of group is okay, if that’s what you are seeking. If you need something more, move on.
It’s about you
If you want to be a writer, you have to ask yourself the big question: why? Are you in it for the money? To be famous? As a hobby? Or are you a writer because you simply can’t imagine yourself doing anything else? Is the only time you don’t feel guilty when you’re actually writing, and just about all other times you feel guilty because you should be writing?
There’s no simple answers. Writers write for millions of different reasons. Your reasoning behind why you write should be the driving force for your reasoning of joining a writing group, and the kind of group. If it’s a good fit, stick with your group. If you don’t feel like you’re getting what you need from the group, move on down the road and search out another group.