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Depending on who you talk to, a writing group can be a great place to learn more about writing, or a complete waste of time. 

Depending on who you talk to, at the meetings you’ll find like-minded people who’ll encourage and support you, or a bunch of pretentious Noddy-Knowalls, who use what little they know about the craft to tear other people’s work apart.   


The person you talk to is 100% right.


The way I see it, what you get out of a writing group is exactly what you’re looking for. Sure, some of the members might not be your kind of people, or have different agendas, but chances are you’ll find at least one person with the same goals as you.  


I belong to two, the GSHW and the Monmouth Creative Writing Group.   I’ve made a lot of good friends and learned a great deal from both, but after reading about [info]j_cheney’s experience at a recent RWA meeting, I realize that not everyone is so lucky. 


It’s not for me to judge what happened. I’m sure those RWA people are decent enough folk, but I wonder if there ought to be some common sense guidelines for how members conduct themselves at writing group meetings. If ever they decide to produce one, I have a few things they can include:


First Impressions count

My old gran used to say, ‘Touch that again and I’ll snap your fingers off!’  It has no relevance here, but the other thing she used to say does.  ‘You only get one chance to make a first impression.’  If you belong to a writing group, please remember that the next time you see a new face there. If that person never comes back, don’t let it be because of something you did or didn’t do or say.


Ask not what your writing group can do for you…

It’s the people involved who make a writing group worth joining. It’s the friendly encouragement, chit-chat and sincere welcome that attracts new members. Even if you don’t want to help with the organizational side of things, you can still play a part. Take the time to get to know some of the others in your group. Help set out chairs, or tidy up the room after the meeting. 


Remember how it felt to be the new person

We’ve all felt a little nervous about entering a room where we didn’t know anyone. Didn’t it feel great when someone took the time to make you feel welcome? Why not do that for someone else? Introduce those new people to others with similar interests.    


Play nice with the other kids

It’s okay to disagree with someone else’s opinions or methods, but keep it polite, and never get personal.


It’s not about you

People notice if you only turn up to meetings or comment on the group message board when you’ve got something to sell or celebrate.


Be a promoter

If you belong to a writing group, chances are you found out about it because someone promoted it, whether it was a flyer, an ad or a personal invite. When was the last time you promoted your own writing group?


If you can think of another useful tip for people, I’d love to hear it.

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( 35 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 25th, 2009 03:05 pm (UTC)
Good points ;o)
Jun. 25th, 2009 03:59 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I cut out all the rude bits before posting :)
Jun. 25th, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC)
I think writing workshops are a wonderful thing! Imagine, a solemn conclave of writers getting together to share their experiences, offer advice, to help a writer craft a story. A dozen minds are better than one, are they not?

What I've found the most helpful about writing workshops is that they can teach the writer how to write a "workshop" story. Workshops stories are important as they don't upset the status quo. To make the good sale nowadays, a piece of fiction needs all the appropriate character and plot arcs to fulfill reader expectation. Workshops are excellent for this.

I once had this silly notion that I wanted to be a unique writer with my own individualistic, idiosyncratic vision, but I've since learned the error of my ways. Writing workshops excel at helping the writer bleed all the inspiration and originality from one's fiction so as to produce a truly homogenous product that offends no one yet satisfy few as well. This is important as originality doesn't sell very well anymore and is rather frowned upon, though some often pay lip service to the notion. As Frank Burns once said on M*A*S*H, "Individuality is fine, as a long as we all do it together."

Still, some habits die hard and I've been pondering taking up my old ways. Unfortunately, I've been unable to find just the right workshop to help me accomplish this. Does anyone know where I can find a workshop that specializes in teaching a writer how to be himself? That's the workshop I want to attend!
Jun. 25th, 2009 03:57 pm (UTC)
Lol. It's no fun if you tell me beforehand that you're going to be sarcastic :)
(no subject) - marshallpayne1 - Jun. 25th, 2009 04:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jun. 25th, 2009 04:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - marshallpayne1 - Jun. 25th, 2009 04:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 25th, 2009 03:26 pm (UTC)
I would add a couple:

1) Find a group that matches your needs. Some groups obsess about rules-- strict m.s. format specs, strict deadlines for submitting, minimum output required to stay in the group, maximum output allowed to be critiqued, etc. My group is very flexible. If you like to submit the novel in chunks, as you write it, fine. If you prefer to wait and submit the whole thing, also fine.

2) Be very aware of people's prejudices. I know I have them and so does every one else. I tend to prefer a linear story and complain about flashbacks. There is one woman in my group who always like the character no one else likes. There is a guy who every single time wants more description of what the characters look like. I don't mean just in my stories,; this is in everyone's stories. Pay attention to trends in critiques and filter out those comments that are so personal they don't really help.

3) remember your ultimate goal is NOT pleasing the group; it's selling the story.
Jun. 25th, 2009 04:00 pm (UTC)
Excellent additions. Especially #2 :)
Jun. 25th, 2009 03:38 pm (UTC)
Good post. Thanks!
Jun. 25th, 2009 03:58 pm (UTC)
My pleasure :)
Jun. 25th, 2009 03:48 pm (UTC)
May I link to this at the Tamago, Jon?

Jun. 25th, 2009 03:56 pm (UTC)
Sure :) What's the Tamago?
(no subject) - cathschaffstump - Jun. 25th, 2009 04:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jun. 25th, 2009 04:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 25th, 2009 04:17 pm (UTC)
My old gran used to say, ‘Touch that again and I’ll snap your fingers off!’

My gran used a cattle prod instead so my parents wouldn't know what she was up to.
Jun. 25th, 2009 04:26 pm (UTC)
Ah, the cattle prod.

'Get away from there!' bzzzzt.

Happy days :)
Jun. 25th, 2009 04:44 pm (UTC)
My old gran used to say, ‘Touch that again and I’ll snap your fingers off!’ It has no relevance here, but the other thing she used to say does.


Okay, that "no relevance here" totally distracted me with laughing.

Onto the guidelines: I'd emphasize even more about not getting personal. Especially in the critiquing. When I was in a group, we had a great facilitator who always managed to redirect potentially personal or insulting comments. It's also good to learn the language of critiquing. Instead of saying, this is boring (which actually, at the stage of the game I'm in, I might welcome), it helps to find the cause of the slow pacing or the redundancy or whatever it is, and focus on some specific, or even compare it to a passage that really flies and show the good aspects as well.
Jun. 25th, 2009 04:49 pm (UTC)
I totally agree. I wonder how many people never went back to a writing group because of the way someone ripped into their story.
Jun. 25th, 2009 04:44 pm (UTC)
I've been in good writing groups and bad writing groups, and overall, I have found them more helpful overall.

I think your post hit all the best points :-)
Jun. 25th, 2009 04:50 pm (UTC)
Thank you. Now if I could just learn to follow my own advice... :)
Jun. 25th, 2009 05:14 pm (UTC)
Great post. Thanks. and I enjoyed the comments too. Especially Marshallpayne1's comment

"Writing workshops excel at helping the writer bleed all the inspiration and originality from one's fiction so as to produce a truly homogenous product that offends no one yet satisfy few as well. This is important as originality doesn't sell very well anymore.." That had me laughing out loud. :)
Jun. 25th, 2009 05:18 pm (UTC)
That Marshall is a mean, mean man. Hence his recent decision to grow an evil-looking beard :)
(no subject) - marshallpayne1 - Jun. 25th, 2009 05:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 25th, 2009 06:06 pm (UTC)
Great points, Jon.

I would add that if the writing group does have a know it all who is intent on making everyone else like him/her, then find another writing group. Or if there is someone who thinks his/her work is flawless but tears everyone else down, run.

Such people are poison.

I've been in 4 writing groups, 1 live and 3 online. Until I found my current group, my longest stay in the others was a month. The first three had fragile egos and hard line writing rules that only applied to a narrow band of stories, yet wanted them applied across the board... Also be wary of the "stars" of the group, people who are probably gifted writers but fear competition.

My current group rocks. Strong writers with strong opinions, but delivered with humility and acknowledgement that opinions are just opinions.
Jun. 25th, 2009 06:15 pm (UTC)
I agree 100% about opinions. Like children and spouses, they should be embraced or ignored when appropriate ;)

However, once you've identified those special characters who might otherwise ruin a group, I think it's worth learning to ignore their input, rather than let them spoil the whole group for you.

Hey, maybe that's why no one talks to me at meetings anymore :)

Jun. 25th, 2009 07:50 pm (UTC)
It's probably best if you have set nights for new people to come, so there isn't a constant stream of new people checking out writing group and wondering if writer will be their new pastime/therapy/way of meeting somebody to have an affair with. :)

I've been in a couple of "open" writing groups which were eventually destroyed by people who didn't give a **** about writing, not really. They just wanted to get out of the house for the night. And flirt. We went through a bad phase of that.

I don't know how to guard against it either. A few of us who were serious about writing tried to find a way to solve that problem but couldn't unless we became elitist, which we all hated the idea of, so we quit the group which promptly folded without the "serious about writing," people to keep it going.

So, I'm down to having a few trusted writing friends which I got from the groups so I guess it's not all bad.

But yes, constant newbies while vital to keep a group from stagnating can also destroy it.
Jun. 25th, 2009 08:00 pm (UTC)
Can't say I've noticed any flirting at the meetings I go to - except for that one old lady who kept sitting on my lap, but I put that down to short-sightedness :)
(no subject) - theladywolf - Jun. 25th, 2009 08:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jun. 25th, 2009 08:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 25th, 2009 09:52 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the LJ add, Jon!

What an interesting post.

My writing group advice is this: you can learn as much from giving a critique as from receiving one. Which is to say, spend plenty of time on the critiques you offer others, because you both benefit.

Jun. 26th, 2009 12:17 am (UTC)
Thank you :)
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 26th, 2009 12:15 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the link. I've heard good things about them. I think I know some of your members :)
Jun. 27th, 2009 10:20 am (UTC)
I've been in my critique group for some years, and that group has struggled and evolved into the helpful entity we all need now, for the most part. My writing would not be what it is today without the guidance I've gotten there. (I had the raw talent and the drive, but lacked the knowledge to hone everything into a marketable diamond.) There will always be rough patches, I know, when a bunch of personalities are co-existing in the same space, but it's how we handle those rough patches that count.

My main peeve--and boy, does it stick in my craw--is when, in a fiction focus group that covers many genres, a member critiques a manuscript according to their personal reading preferences rather than the market it is for. What you don't care for, frankly, is irrelevant, in my opinion. What you've signed up for is to constructively help your mate make his/her project appeal to its target audience. That said, anything that truly offends you isn't something you have to critique (in our group)--just opt out. (No one ever has, though.) If your mates are decent people, they won't hold it against you. OR you can always join a group that is genre-specific and avoid the problem altogether.

Just my buck/fifty.

The comments in this thread are terrific. :)
Jun. 27th, 2009 10:13 pm (UTC)
Excellent point. If you're going to critique, do it from that genre's POV. It's like when critics slam the latest superhero movie because it isn't arty enough.

Thanks for sharing :)
( 35 comments — Leave a comment )

Things What I Wrote and Other Stuff

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