Why Joining A Writing Group May Be The Best Thing You Do All Year

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Improving your craft as a writer can sometimes feel like a rollercoaster ride: one day you’re breathless from a breakthrough, the next you’re stagnant with self-doubt. The advantage of writing in the twenty-first century is that help abounds—books, articles, blogs, videos, conferences, online courses, etc. are now more accessible than ever. While each of these has its place in the writer’s toolkit, perhaps one of the most essential assets for writers set on honing their craft is a writing group.

There are many types of writing and critique groups—some meet online only, some meet in person, some meet once a week, some once a month. There’s almost certainly a group in your area or online that will be a good fit for you. But I think it’s safe to say all groups have at least the following six characteristics in common that guarantee you’ll be improving your craft just by showing up.

1. Join a community

While the tools for self-improvement listed above can be invaluable, almost all of them take place in a vacuum. The beauty of a writing group is that it’s a built-in community of people like you, eager to improve their craft and help you improve yours.

  • Do you have a habit of holing up in your writing cave until well-intentioned friends and family coax you out?
  • Are you fiercely defensive of your work and have a hard time taking advice about revisions?
  • Do you find yourself feeling lonely in your writing and publishing goals?

Whatever your personal writing challenges, it’s almost universally true that joining a writing community can give you the perspective and camaraderie you need to navigate them successfully. Plus, having a weekly or monthly critique group waiting on you for the next installment of your book can help you establish and keep an eye on that work-life balance.

2. Catch sight of your blind spots

Speaking of eyes . . . every writer has their blind spots. You most likely have a mental list of your strengths and weaknesses, but some things are just bound to elude you. In a writing group, your work is read, discussed, and critiqued on a regular basis. You’ll start to see patterns in the type of feedback you’re getting. And as you keep writing, that advice will make its way into your work-in-progress; sometimes intentionally, sometimes subconsciously.

But before you know it, you’ll be making headway, growing stronger and more perceptive, you’ll see your work transformed before your eyes. It’s like shining a spotlight on the weaker areas of your craft so that you can see the way forward to each next step on your writing journey.

3. See your work in a new light

Another benefit of having consistent feedback is that you start to gain an outsider’s perspective on your story. Apart from beta readers, writing partners are sometimes the only people who can simulate a reader’s response to your story before you send it out into the world. This is essential for understanding your target readership, their needs and expectations, and how your story addresses them. If you’re intentional about analyzing and using that information to your advantage, you’ll be in great shape to represent your story to an agent, publisher, or your target audience itself. Your writing group can give you the gift of being aware of how the world outside your own mind perceives and interacts with your story.

4. Stay in the loop

Publishing is an industry like any other—it has its own unique terminology and expectations that a newcomer may not know. Joining a writing group is an excellent way to get exposure to that insider knowledge. Writer’s platform, query letter, marketability, target audience, publishing rights; these are just a few examples of terms and topics that new writers might not encounter elsewhere but will find empowering to learn about as they pursue their own publishing goals.

Even for experienced writers, the industry is changing at such a whirlwind pace, that it can feel daunting at times just to keep up with current information. But when you’re meeting weekly or monthly with your community of writers, you’re bound to hear news of the latest local and national trends. You’ll have opportunities to attend author events, meet key figures in the industry, attend conferences and workshops, and stay up to date on the changes in the market and shifting expectations of your readership.

Want to give yourself the best chance of standing out in the slush pile, maintain realistic expectations, set attainable writing and publication goals? Being an active part of a writing group will almost certainly ensure that you have the necessary knowledge and tools.

5. Find your voice

When you first start sharing your work with others, it’s nerve-wracking. You’re opening your mind and your heart, sharing your creative work without knowing how it will be received. What if they don’t like it? What if I’m not a good writer? What if I only think it’s good?

Sound familiar?

When you share your work (maybe for the first time!) in the context of a critique group, you can at least have the comfort of being among friends. Everyone else has been there. Every other writer in your group has felt the vulnerability of standing up to read their work for the first time or has sat with shaky fingers trying to get up the courage to press that Send button. It’s hard—there’s no getting around that—but when you know you’re not alone, you can feel confident that your work will be received with respect and compassion.

6. Share your knowledge

Writing groups aren’t just for beginners. If they were, the critique would be somewhat limited. Seasoned writers have the opportunity to mentor and share essential knowledge to fledgling writers. Imagine how rewarding that might be!

And sometimes it’s just plain satisfying to be the most knowledgeable person in the room. Writing groups rely on the wisdom of experienced writers to steer them in the right direction. The best part, as any teacher will tell you, is that training others helps you refine that knowledge for yourself and apply it in ways you may not have considered before. You may be surprised what your “students” have to teach you.

What are you waiting for?

Jonathan Maberry points out that there are two camps in the writing world: those who believe it’s a competition and those who believe it’s a community. In a competitive view, we’re all trying to outdo each other, so we are often guarded and cloistered behind our walls. But, if being a writer is about joining a national and international community where we can learn from each other and improve together, then we can all benefit from mutual support.

Well, you know by now which view I subscribe to. So go join a writing group! From your first meeting you’ll start improving your craft and helping others do the same.

Do you belong to a writing group? What are your experiences and what have you gained / lost from your group? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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10 thoughts on “Why Joining A Writing Group May Be The Best Thing You Do All Year”

  1. Fantastic blog, Paige! I love the last point about competition vs.community. I’ve been part of several writing groups and the biggest thing I’ve learned is that it’s not nearly the competition I thought it was before I sought out community. Truly, the only person I am competing with is myself. There are wonderful writers out there, and there are developing writers out there. At times I am either of these. It’s my writing community that helps me achieve what I was already on track to achieve with my own talent. I am never asked to write like another person – rather, to use my unique voice to tell the story that only I can tell.

    It’s such an amazing feeling sitting in a room full of people who love writing as much as you do… who will spend hours talking about plot, pacing, syntax and books for teenagers (in my case.) I strongly advise writers of all levels find a community on the writing journey.

    1. Great insight! The feeling of taking part in a supportive community is one of my favorite aspects of writing group. Glad your experience has been positive.

  2. Excellent points. I was in an in-person writing group for several years. It met every two weeks. The leader, a published writer, read our work aloud. One down side of this group was that Ms. Leader had no sense of time. She would lavish time on one writer and give short shrift to others. I ultimately left the group because of this.

    Some in the group brought the same revised work over and over. It was beyond boring. So, rather than totally bore everyone, I decided to just press on with my novel and try to write a chapter in the 2 weeks between meeting.

    It worked! The discipline of having to produce a chapter for the group acted as an engine, driving me forward. Often I was revising right up to meeting time. But I was able to defeat that all-too-true adage: work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

    So writing groups can be valuable in the disciplinary sense, too.

    1. Cameron, I totally agree, the time and personality factors are sometimes the downside of an in-person critique group. If people are not in agreement about expectations for the group, or if they fail to stick to them consistently, that can be incredibly frustrating. I’m glad you were able to make productive use of the time, though. Best of luck with your writing!

    1. Hi Antara Man, I’m so glad you found the post helpful. I have several resources for you, many of which have gotten good reviews from fellow writers and industry professionals.

      Scribophile (http://www.scribophile.com)
      Internet Writing Workshop (http://internetwritingworkshop.org)
      MuseItUp Club (http://museitupclub.tripod.com/index.htm)
      Review fuse (http://www.reviewfuse.com)
      And here’s an article listing other resources based on results from a reader poll: (http://emmaklarkins.hubpages.com/hub/onlinewritersgroupsreview)

      Joining a writing group was the single best thing I did to improve my craft, I sincerely hope you find a supportive and welcoming community of writers to help you on your own journey. Let us know what you find out. Best of luck to you!

    1. Hi boostwriter,

      Glad you liked the article. I hope you find a supportive and warm community of writers that’s a good fit for you!

  3. Thanks for your article. I joined a writing circle last year because I thought it would help me to put down in print a story I have had in my head for decades. A hair cut client recommended this group of ladies. I had no idea what to expect at my first meeting. It was a truly life changing experience for me. I had never written spontaneously on a randomly chosen prompt and I had never read my writing out loud. Instead of being terrified I felt exhilarated. The sense of community and support I get from these women is the Peter Pan moment of my week. It has freed me of self criticism and these women have become dear friends. I am slowly working on my story and am not as afraid to try out other group writing experiences I am writing on training wheels and loving it.

    1. Hi Jaricia,

      I’m thrilled to hear you had such a positive experience with your writing circle! It really is one of the best ways to boost a writer’s confidence and help them learn to talk more openly about their work. I hope it continues to be a very helpful and supportive space for you. And I wish you all the best with your book!

      Paige

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