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What to Expect from a Writers Group

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

I’ve mentioned before how writing is often a solitary task. We spend so much of our time pouring our hearts and souls into something that it becomes a part of us. We care so much for our project, that when it comes time to share it with someone, it is incredibly nerve-wracking.

What if they don’t like it?

What if they hate it?

What if you’re a horrible writer?

This is just a small sample of some of the terrible thoughts that run through our heads before we share something with someone else, which is why sharing is so difficult for writers.

Of course, if a person ever wants to be a professional writer, they are going to need to learn how to share their writing with others. A good way to get practice with this is by joining a local writers group.

It May Seem Scary but Don’t Let That Stop You

The idea of joining a writers group can be intimidating for those who have never participated in one before for the above reasons. You don’t know what to expect and if the group is really into editing, then their words can feel harsh or extreme.

If a person is more prepared for what to expect when they go to a group meeting for the first time, then they won’t be caught off guard and will be more likely to stick it out. At least, that’s what happened to me.

From what I can tell, there are two types of writers groups. There is the critique group, and then there is the praise group. Of the two, I know which one sounds better, but it’s not the one you want. The point of a writers group is to help you and other writers improve your skills. As tough and hurtful as it may be at times, you want a group that offers real critiques, not just pats on the back.

The tricky part is that all groups sell themselves as the same kind of group. The only way to know the type of group is to sit in on a meeting or two.

How Writers Groups Work

You want a group that actually provides critiques. At a real critique group, some of the authors will submit their writing to the group and may even read it aloud during the meeting. Then, the other members will provide their comments and thoughts on the piece. In some groups, the writer may be able to talk with the people who are giving critiques, and in others, the writer may need to stay quiet and simply listen.

A part of me understands the latter methodology. If the writer is able to talk back, they can easily get defensive of their piece and stall the meeting. However, I feel that it can be helpful for everyone if the writer can speak back with the people. This way, they can explain what they were attempting to do, which can help guide the discussion toward ideas on how to improve and really deliver.

On top of that, the discussion can also help people find more things they like or dislike. There have been plenty of times where another person was giving feedback, which helped me notice something else in the piece that no one had noticed yet.

All of this is great because it provides you with feedback and since everyone is different, different people will catch different things.

The other type of group, which I’ve only ever heard of, is the praise group. This one calls itself a writers group, and technically it is one. However, this one doesn’t provide you with any feedback other than it was great. If you’ve ever given your writing to someone that you know didn’t read it, then you know how frustrating that response can be. You don’t want a group that solely gives pats on the backs. If you join a group like that, you will never grow as a writer and improve your skills. Instead, you will stagnate and can wind up publishing something that you would have wished someone warned you about beforehand.

A Brief Account of My Experience with Writers Groups

My first time at a writers group wasn’t a great experience. They met at the local library, I showed up early, as I do, talked to someone to make sure I was in the right place. They said yes. Everyone else showed up, no one else spoke to me or introduced themselves in any way. They edited their stuff and went on their way after completely ignoring me for several hours.

After that, I decided the group wasn’t for me for some unknown reason that wasn’t at all related to being completely ignored. That totally had nothing to do with it at all. No, I’m not being sarcastic. I’m never sarcastic.

Shortly after that, I took a creative writing class in college and we had a few workshopping nights. These helped me get an understanding of how a writers group should work.

About a year after my first attempt at joining my local writers group, I returned to it a little more prepared. Thankfully, the writers group then experienced a change in leadership and became what it is today, which is a group that is actually friendly and helpful instead of a snobby little club.

You Want to Find a Writers Group

Writers groups can be very intimidating to someone who has never been to one before. Unfortunately, they can also be a bit rude if the people running the show are too snooty. If you are trying a new group, give it a fair shot; be prepared to share your work, and to offer advice to others. Don’t worry about giving the best advice, just give them your thoughts. As you learn to edit, you will learn how to provide feedback too. It just takes time.

If you aren’t meshing well with a group, feel free to leave and try to find another. With help from Facebook and Zoom, making your own group is easier than ever. Heck, nowadays you don’t even have to be local to join a group. You can easily join a group that meets digitally with members all across the country.

Whatever you do, don’t give up. A writer’s group can be very beneficial for you. Not only do you get a group of people who know how to help you improve your work, by helping them with their projects, you also learn how to improve your own stuff. When I first joined my writers group, I had no idea what to comment on other than obvious typos. Over the years, I learned how to spot all sorts of things from flow of the work, to word choice, to repetition.

If you’re still not convinced, know that some of the best authors out there were in writers groups. Did you know that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were in a writers group together? It was a group of around 19 men who met weekly in Lewis’s room at Magdalen College to read and critique each other’s work. There is a rumor that Tolkien is the reason there was a lamppost in Narnia because he said that no good fantasy novel could have a lamppost in it.

Whether that rumor is true or not, I do know that having a writers group can really make a difference in your writing. It definitely has for me.

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