Why You Should Join a Writing Group
So, you’ve heard about writing groups? Maybe you’re even thinking of joining one. Good, because if you want to write and publish a novel, then joining a writing group is one of the best things you can do.
Why I’m Writing This
From time to time (okay, all the time) I get messages like this:
I’ve written a novel, but despite sending loads of queries out, I keep getting rejections. The publishing industry is so biased against people like me! Do you have any hints or tips about how to get my writing published? I’d appreciate any help so much. Thank you!
Mr/Ms Aspiring Author
Now, there’s a lot of hurt in these messages, and I sympathise. Having said that, it’s incredibly hard to get published, and rejections for a beginning author with no track record are extremely common. In fact, when I was writing my article investigating the myths and reality of publishing, I made a startling discovery: literary agents reject over 99% of the manuscripts they’re sent.
That’s because, unfortunately, most aspiring authors are not producing publishable work. Most aspiring writers are prematurely focussing on getting published, when what they really need to do is focus on producing publishable work. So, the first thing you need to do as an aspiring writer is ask yourself what you’ve done to get feedback on your writing.
Okay, the people who contact me often say, how about you give me some feedback then, Graeme?
Now, I’d love to support everyone who asked me for help with their writing. Unfortunately, if I did, I’d not only have no time for my own projects, but I’d have no time for eating or sleeping. It’s just not an option.
What I can do though, is offer the next best thing, and so this is the advice I give to the writers to contact me:
Hi Mr/Ms Aspiring Author,
The absolute best thing you can do for your writing is to join a writing group. They’re great for supporting you and really help you improve your skills.
Advantages of Writing Groups
But why do I think writing groups are so useful? Well, they have a bunch of advantages:
Raising Your Game
Many aspiring authors only show their work to a handful of friends and family. That’s not great because they:
- Don’t want to hurt or upset you.
- Can’t articulate what it is they like or dislike about your writing.
- Have no experience of critiquing people’s writing.
So, you won’t have a realistic idea of the level your writing is at, and you won’t know how to improve.
If you join a writing critique group, you’ll likely discover that, although your work has strengths, it also has weaknesses. This is, in fact, the entire point of a critique group: to identify where you can improve your writing. You need to have the right attitude though, something that I outlined in this article:
Encouragement and Networking
Just being with other writers who understand what it’s like being a writer and who take you seriously can provide a lot of encouragement. Being with other writers avoids the feelings of being an outsider and ‘not knowing where to start’. And other writers can tell you about their experiences and what worked for them.
‘Write every day’ is classic advice, and it’s not wrong. But how do you find that motivation? Well, a writing group can help, because the group meeting provides a deadline to get a version of the story ready.
If you write regularly, then you’ll produce more work and if you have a deadline, then you’re more likely to get work finished. These are both good things.
Writing Group = Social Group
Having a like-minded group of people with a reason to meet up with is always good, and who doesn’t want more friends? The more you get out of writing, the better you’ll write.
Disadvantages of Writing Groups
How well a writing group gives and takes criticism is vital to its success. That’s because it’s easy to slip into being too negative, especially in online writing groups. Other people, while meaning well, might not ‘get’ your work. To avoid possible discouragement, I’d advise you to find a writing group that has a policy of constructive criticism as explained above.
Learning to deal with criticism as an author can be hard. However, some people find any kind of criticism distressing and just can’t accept any feedback, however well-meaning. If you are that kind of person, then it’s going to be tough to join a writing group. It’s also going to be tough to get anywhere in publishing, so perhaps it’d be best if you just self-publish your book.
Writers can be touchy and emotional people. Even so, the only problems I’ve ever seen in writing groups were about politics. Well, not the only problems, but most of them. To avoid problems, my group makes it a rule that we’re apolitical. We disallow criticism of the politics, rather than the literary quality, of people’s work.
However, occasionally writing groups become cliquey and relationships can break down, at which point the only option is to leave and find a new group.
The Blind Leading the Blind?
Some people question how useful a writing group whose members are all unpublished is. Do other aspiring writers know enough about writing to provide useful critique?
I’ve never found it to be a problem, because it’s a lot easier to critique other people’s work than to produce your own. Sure, some people’s critiques are more incisive than others. Still, most people can articulate what they liked and didn’t like about a story, and that’s always useful.
And even if someone really isn’t that switched on, their critique still gives you information on the reaction that average readers might have. For example, if they’ve misunderstood the premise of your story, then you might need to make it clearer.
But What If They Steal My Idea?
Worrying about other people stealing your idea is something only new writers do.
See my article on how to copyright a story for why your work being stolen is not something you need to worry about.
Types of Writing Group
There are two main types of writing group: groups where people do writing exercises, i.e. a writing workshop group, and groups where people submit their work for feedback, i.e. a writing critique group.
There are also two ways for writing groups to get together: real life and online.
Writing Critique Groups
In a writing critique group, the members don’t write at the meetings. They write in their own time and then submit their work to the group meetings for constructive criticism. This feedback is your best opportunity to improve your writing.
If the people in the group understand the genre you write in, it makes their critiques even more useful because they understand the genre conventions. For example, if you’re writing sci-fi or fantasy, then you’ll be best joining a speculative fiction writing group.
If the group expects you to read your work out, then you’ll have to be comfortable with that. Some writers love to read their work out in front of a room full of people, others are uncomfortable. I’ve read my work out innumerable times now, and though I was nervous the first few times, I became more confident. I’ve also written an article full of public speaking tips for authors to help.
Writing Workshop Groups
In a writing workshop group, the members write at the meetings. The participants either do writing exercises, or they co-write, i.e. sit and work on their own writing, but with others around.
Writing workshops are great for encouraging you and helping you concentrate on writing.
As there’s little to no critique in a writing workshop group, it won’t help you improve your writing as much. Perhaps, though, just being with other writers, doing writing exercises and getting words down on the page will help you progress.
Real Life Writing Groups
Although I said I didn’t have time to support everyone, there is one way to get me to critique your work. That’s to join my writing group, Manchester Speculative Fiction, and come along to meetings. To do that, you’ll have to live within travelling distance of Manchester, UK, though.
And that’s the main problem with real life writing groups. Unless there’s one in your area, it’s not an option. Of course, you could always try starting your own group. That’s a whole other article though.
Online Writing Groups
Of course, it’s possible to join a writing group that meets only online, using text, audio or video chat. This has the huge advantage of interacting with people from potentially all over the world who focus on your genre. For example, I’ve posted some of my writing on alternatehistory.com and found the feedback encouraging and useful. I also posted on the critique website YouWriteOn, winning their book of the year prize (however, YouWriteOn is currently ‘on hiatus’).
Online groups have the disadvantage of being more impersonal, which can lead to harsh critiques. Personally, I find any kind of critique useful, but you’ll have to decide if that suits you.
How to Find a Writing Group That Suits You
To find a real life writing group, try searching online for ‘writing group in [your area]’ and see what comes up. You’ll likely be able to find a local writing group and, depending on where you live, you may have a choice. A nearby real-life writing group will be easier to get to. However, a writing group that’s further away or online might be better if it specialises in the genre you write in.
Alternatively, try asking at the local library or community centre, as they usually know what writing groups exist in the area.
Things to Do
- Realise just how hard it is to gain commercial publication.
- Realise that you need to focus less on getting published and more on writing publishable work.
- Consider how best to raise your writing game.
- Investigate writing groups in your local area and online.
- Find a writing critique group where you can get constructive feedback.
- Find a writing workshop group to encourage you to write
- Join the groups, attend some meetings and decide if they are for you.
If you’ve got any thoughts on writing groups, please email me. Otherwise, please feel free to share the article using the buttons below.