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What do you look for in a writing group?

What do you look for in a writing group?

If you've some experience of writing groups, good or bad, I'd appreciate your input.

Poll #1841662 Writing groups

Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of a writing group


If 'Yes', why did you hope to gain from joining?

I wanted to get critique/feedback on my own writing
workshops/presentations on writing-related subjects
Critique groups with other writers in my genre
Something else, which I'll explain in the comments

If 'No', is there a particular reason why not?

Something else, which I'll explain in the comments

When you attended your first few meetings with the group, was there something which made a big impression (good or bad)?

If 'Yes' please explain in a comment

What would make you leave a writing group?

Not a good fit for me/my writing
Membership fees too expensive
Too far away
Uncomfortable atmosphere
Unfriendly atmosphere
Too few members
Too many members
Something else, which I'll explain in the comments

If there's something not covered in the poll, please feel free to leave a comment anyway. I'm particularly interested in things which made a big impression on you, either in a good or bad way.

Related posts:
What would put you off from joining/staying with a writing group?

The Critiquee's Charter

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( 56 comments — Leave a comment )
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May. 21st, 2012 03:15 pm (UTC)
To me, it mostly comes down to convenience and atmosphere.

As far as convenience goes, it's all about "can I get there without it being a huge hassle"? If it is, great. If not, it's probably not going to happen. (Esp. as there are great writing groups online - www.critiquecircle.com and critters.org are both pretty awesome and free.)

After that, I wouldn't show up for very long at any writing group that I wasn't getting something out of. I've been in groups that are so fluffy that the advice is useless. (And a few which honestly feel mean, which I find unproductive, too.) So that's important as well. (And I've seen a lot more lean on the fluffy side than the mean side. You know, the sorts who say "your story is brilliant!" and don't give a single helpful comment.)
May. 21st, 2012 03:43 pm (UTC)
When it comes to critiquing, there's definitely a learning curve involved - often for both parties ;)

Thanks for the input :)
(no subject) - mutive - May. 21st, 2012 03:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - May. 21st, 2012 03:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 21st, 2012 03:31 pm (UTC)
Hmmm....I joined a writing group that was a special-interest section of a larger group and ended up moderating it for a few years. It was a really interesting experience, and I think a big part of my learning was not just in getting critiques but in learning to critique outside of my genre. What induced me to give it up was that, as moderator of a public access group (anyone in the larger group could join our sessions) I got tired of mediating the problem personalities - the people writing racist stereotypes who reacted badly to critiques of same; the 80 year old writer whose second reading featured soft-core pedophilia, the various folk who sucked air out of the room in different ways.... I enjoyed working with the core group but finally couldn't handle the rest of it, you know? And I'm not sure what the answer is; all groups need new blood but also need a mechanism for identifying/dealing with a poor fit, and it can be a difficult balance to strike.
May. 21st, 2012 03:44 pm (UTC)
'...all groups need new blood but also need a mechanism for identifying/dealing with a poor fit

I think that may be one of the most difficult things about running a writing group.

Thanks for sharing :)
May. 21st, 2012 03:42 pm (UTC)
I found an online writing group eventually and I was surprised by how much I had in common with the other members. Not just our age group and our preferred genre but also our style and our level of expertise. I'd heard about birds of a feather, but I had never actually met so many women who liked the same kinds of stories I did.

A writing group becomes uncomfortable to me when there's too much pressure on quantity. Also, the atmosphere must be friendly enough to agree to disagree about things, to say you don't like a sentence without anyone getting angry or sad. Critiques should contain good points as well as flaws and everyone should be comfortable with that.
May. 21st, 2012 03:45 pm (UTC)
Online groups can work well, but (for me) I really enjoy the face to face atmosphere of a good group.

Thanks for the input, Ellen :)
May. 21st, 2012 03:57 pm (UTC)
I've been in a couple, both of which I left. One was before I was serious about it and I found the others to be much too serious for me. The next was when I was serious, but the others were not near serious enough. I went to one meeting of the one here where I live, but it was not for me. Too many people at too many different levels of both skill and commitment. I think the best thing is to find a small number of others ( 5 or less) with your level of seriousness and commitment to the craft. And a huge turn-off for me is when people show up just wanting their egos stroked. I'm not there to blow sunshine up someone's behind, I'm there to offer critical feedback with the goal of strengthening a piece of work. ( Getting off my soap box now.)
May. 21st, 2012 04:03 pm (UTC)
Lol, I know what you mean.

It's not easy striking a good balance, which keeps the more serious folks interested while offering something for the less committed writers (and vice versa</>)

Thanks for sharing, Stephanie :)
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - jongibbs - May. 22nd, 2012 08:52 am (UTC) - Expand
Sue Wentz
May. 21st, 2012 04:01 pm (UTC)
I've been in three writing groups; two local and one regional. I left the local ones after several years and two terms as the president of one of them, and will probably not renew my membership with the next when it comes due.

On the local level, I found three problems that I finally couldn't ignore anymore. The first was that the meetings seemed to deteriorate into gossip and chit-chat sessions, making them run way too long with very little productivity. This wasn't helped by members completely ignoring the ten minute limit we'd set on reading. When fifteen people showed up, it turned into an endurance test.

The second issue was that because so many members tended to be ultra-sensitive to critique, it was decided that only positive and encouraging comments would be allowed. That made it pretty pointless for my purposes. As nice as it is to know what I'm doing right, I really need to know what I might be doing wrong.

The last issue was that I felt that my work really had nothing in common with what everyone else was doing. I was a fiction author in a sea of reminiscence writers. The first meeting I attended I read a chapter that involved a protagonist contemplating suicide. One of the members very seriously suggested I get counseling. (In retrospect, I take that as a compliment.) I also found myself slapping temporary patch-edits on my work to avoid offending the more elderly/conservative people in the groups.

What I've settled on for now is a small group of solid writers and perceptive readers who aren't afraid to give or receive constructive feedback. Most of them are online and I do miss some of the social aspect of meetings, but I do seem to get much more accomplished this way.

May. 21st, 2012 04:26 pm (UTC)
Sounds like you've got yourself a good critique group there, Sue. I know what you mean about meetings deteriorating into chit-chat sessions etc. It's certainly something I'd seek to avoid.

Thanks for the input :)
May. 21st, 2012 04:30 pm (UTC)
I knew I'd found the right group from the beginning because the feedback was harsh but constructive (not mean-spirited). I critiqued three entire novels through this group, and parts of a 4th and 5th. Ultimately I sold novel #3 to a big-6 publisher, and I'm still with the group.
May. 21st, 2012 04:34 pm (UTC)
Nice one, Amy :)
May. 21st, 2012 04:55 pm (UTC)
I was sort of in a writing group (a real life one, anyway), for like...five weeks. In November 2010, I was doing NaNo and our ML for Connecticut sent out an email saying someone in a nearby town was looking to start a writer's group. I emailed the girl who was looking to start it (a few years younger than me), and asked if she'd like a co-leader. She said yes. We agreed to have two places to meet- the library in my town and then the library in basically her town. I was only ever able to go the meetings in my town, mainly because I'd either get scheduled to work and/or I wouldn't have a way to get down there (I don't like driving in unfamiliar places, and...yeah).

I ended up making a message board that we were going to use for discussions when we weren't meeting. Oh but wait! This was after I had already suggested a Facebook group and the suggestion was ignored by the person I was supposed to be co-leading the group with. Then someone ended up suggesting a Facebook group after a few weeks of trying to use the message board, and they went ahead and made one. Funny how that works. (You're going to see a fair amount of bitterness in this story, haha.)

The few meetings I went to weren't that bad. I never had anything critiqued (which in hindsight was probably a good thing, because there was a woman there who...well, she made it obvious that she knew a lot about writing, and I have a feeling she would have been really harsh about my writing). It was a little awkward because this girl that I'd met at the one meet up that I led during NaNo (this whole thing with the group wasn't even until after NaNo had ended) came to the meetings and she kind of did some things that kind of indirectly embarrassed me.

There were some other things that irritated me...I think certain discussions on the Facebook group...but otherwise things were kind of okay.

Then one day, I get an email from the same woman who I'd call a writing snob. It was sent to both me and the girl who'd come to the meet up I'd led during November, and it said the following:

We (insert everyone else but myself and ONE OTHER MEMBER) have had a long discussion about what we want out of a writing group and where we would like the group to go in the future. During this discussion we decided that, for various reasons (basic logistics, personalities, experience levels, goals, etc.),will be splitting off from Tales of the Muse and forming our own group.

We all wish you both the best of luck with your writing and with Tales of the Muse and hope that in time you will attract many more members with similar wants and needs as yourselves.

(Insert their names here)

I can see why they didn't want the other girl to be involved, kind of, but me? They barley interacted with me. I never showed them any of my writing.

The stupid thing is that we were meeting at a public place, so it's not like they could actually KEEP me from showing up...what if we'd put flyers up and other people decided to join in on the meetings?

I ended up making this super long, haha. Continued in next comment.
May. 21st, 2012 04:55 pm (UTC)
I ended up just not even bothering to respond to the email. I was too pissed off, and eventually I realized it just wasn't even worth it. I didn't feel a connection to any of the other members of the group.

>.> So now because of that, even if I FOUND people to be part of a real life writer's group, I'd be very, very picky about how it was done and I would absolutely want to co-lead it with someone I actually KNEW for a long time.

So based on THAT experience, I want friendly people who are around the same age group, aren't too "advanced," (i.e. on the verge of being published, because then they just- and this is based on a member that I never actually met because he couldn't come to the meetings in my town- show off their knowledge and make you look bad) write the same genre (or at least similar genre), are willing to meet where it's most convenient, are willing to utilize the internet as necessary, aren't going to be super harsh with criticism, and just...yeah.

I've had better luck with online writing groups that I've started.

I was a member of another writing group that used to (or maybe it still does, I don't know) meet at my town's library, too. It was made up of way older people, making me the youngest. I mainly stopped going to the meetings because of my car being totaled and getting busy, but also because it was hard to "connect" with them, because they were so much older (like...45+) and they didn't really write fantasy like I did. I think I was really the only one who wrote fantasy.

One of these days I'll have a job where I have a reliable schedule and have weekends off, and maybe I'll be able to try and get a group started, or join one. The only thing I'm iffy on is the fact that leading a writing group online is different from doing it in person, and i wouldn't want to try and do it on my own, so I'd need to find someone willing to co-lead.

tl;dr I had bad experiences with the two groups I was part of. :| They weren't bad enough to make me not ever want to join one again, though, if I can find a group that I can connect to.
(no subject) - jongibbs - May. 21st, 2012 05:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jediknightmuse - May. 21st, 2012 11:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 21st, 2012 05:03 pm (UTC)
I keep in mind a difference between critique groups (whose sole purpose is to bring like-minded writers together to critique each other's work) and a writing group, where writers meet to discuss different aspects of writing and the industry, possibly with a guest speaker who discusses some facet of the craft. The writers group is treated like an organization with a board to lightly "govern" the group (not the members perse), handle treasury functions and plan the yearly program.

The hardest thing I've found in the two local groups I belong to is balancing wide range of skill levels and committment to publishing. Who do you cater to? The newbie who has a casual interest in writing or the member who's been around for a decade who seriously wants a writing career?

Then there's the issue of genre. Multi-genre groups work on some levels, but don't work on others. Everyone can talk about craft; it's basically the same for all genres. But beyond that, I think horror writers want to hear from other horror writers and maybe not from romance writers (fill in your genre here).

The bottom line for me is to experience writers groups for more than one meeting in case the first one I go to isn't their best and to decide what I want from the group. If I'm writing horror novels and the group is made of romance novelists, am I going to leave becauase they speak a different genre than I do or learn from other novelists?
May. 21st, 2012 05:09 pm (UTC)
I keep in mind a difference between critique groups (whose sole purpose is to bring like-minded writers together to critique each other's work) and a writing group

Absolutely! In theory, once you get a reasonable sized group together, members can form critique groups on their own, with folks who write in a similar genre.

I'm not so sure a writing group needs a board though, unless members pay a subscription, which isn't something I'm planning on in this case.

Thanks for sharing, Gary :)
(no subject) - garyfrank - May. 21st, 2012 05:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 21st, 2012 05:09 pm (UTC)
What made a big impression on me?

When I first joined the Garden State Horror Writers, I found a group of enthusiastic writers all writing dark fiction of one kind or another. There was a good, positive vibe and a number of the members were published while many of them were seriously striving to get published. A lot of members also belonged to the Horror Writers Association so there were a lot of industry connections, which made networking a great way to meet published authors, editors and such. I felt very welcomed and I knew I had found a home with these people.

When I joined Liberty States Fiction Writers, I found a group of positive, enthusiastic novelists, all seeking (or having already found) publication. As I write mostly novels, this was very important to me. I knew I could learn a lot from them about craft and also what's going on in the publishing industry.
May. 21st, 2012 05:13 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean. There's a terrific buzz given off by an enthusiastic group of people :)
(no subject) - garyfrank - May. 21st, 2012 05:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - May. 21st, 2012 05:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 21st, 2012 05:40 pm (UTC)
I went back and forth between putting "yes" and "no" for the first question, because yes, I've been part of writing groups, in a sense--in a sense, I am now part of one--but no, I've never been part of a formal one of the sort you're thinking of organizing.

I've had friends over to my house a couple of times just to write and then to read bits of our writing. I did that based on my memory of the one time I did Nano, being invited out to a coffee shop with other people who were doing Nano, and how neat it felt just to actually be physically writing in the presence of others. Not something that appeals to everyone, I'm betting, but I enjoyed it.

I've never done a formal writing group for all sorts of reasons, some of them logistical (I have lots of demands on my time, and I live at a bit of a distance from population centers) and some just personal (I'm only gradually working up to feeling comfortable with the give-and-take that a writing group involves).

For me, in addition to wanting a friendly environment, I'd really want it to stay on track, focused on writing. I wouldn't want it to devolve into a social meeting.
May. 21st, 2012 06:18 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Francesca :)
May. 21st, 2012 05:48 pm (UTC)
Joining: Our group write-ins help my work ethic.
Leaving: If the group members are at a different place than I am, I wouldn't hang around. My current group has a healthy mix of beginners and published writers. I'm not so interested in a crit group as I am the group write-ins, but we have both. My online group is comprised of published authors, and our conversations are more about promotion, marketing and contracts than writing advice. A group of all newbies would probably not hold much interest for me.
May. 21st, 2012 06:19 pm (UTC)
thee's nothing like having a regular critique session to keep you churning out new words :)
May. 21st, 2012 06:26 pm (UTC)
The writer's group I belong to is very friendly. When we joined we were introduced to everyone and told how things worked. We had some nice refreshments. It was very welcoming so we naturally wanted to stay.

When the group started getting too big, we started a little offshoot of it- a small poetry group, where all the poets could gather and discuss poetry and read their poems on a separate day. We go to both meetings still and it's a lot of fun.

We have writers of all experience levels, so sometimes the ratio of useful critique to fluff is low, but it's always a fun time.

The only thing that I don't like about it is we have one member who is a bit borish -- he goes on and on and on at times about his favorite subject (himself and his 'excellent writing'). And he tends to turn the subject of any discussion to himself whenever possible. Our moderator is a really nice guy-- too nice to confront Mr. Boor. So... I would say if you get any problem members, please don't be afraid to speak to them privately about their behavior issues as it may be making members of your group uncomfortable.
May. 21st, 2012 06:28 pm (UTC)
Good advice. Thanks, Laura :)
Walter Giersbach
May. 21st, 2012 08:16 pm (UTC)
Writing Groups Aren't Marriage Contracts

I've been in three groups, sequentially, moderate one now and believe strongly in them for the networking, the critiques that uncover "gotchas," and friendships. I severely dislike writers who come to the group for psychological therapy, who drift away from the thread of discussion, and who fail to learn or respond seriously to the challenge of writing. I hate terribly large groups. And, I would never join a fee-based group unless Stphen King or Orson Scott Card was the moderator.

There may be some additional thoughts in a piece I posted to Flash Fiction Chronicles on "Why Writing Groups?" (http://www.everydayfiction.com/flashfictionblog/why-writing-groups/#comments).
May. 21st, 2012 09:54 pm (UTC)
Re: Writing Groups Aren't Marriage Contracts
Thanks for the link, Walt :)
May. 21st, 2012 08:17 pm (UTC)
Here's something not yet touched upon (I think).

I wouldn't join a writing group where the modus operandi is authors reading aloud, and verbal critiques being given on the spot. I have difficulty processing information when it is read aloud to me; I don't know why, because I can understand a professor lecturing, but not a professor reading his/her lecture notes. In addition, I want to give and get thoughtful critiques, not just initial gut reactions. In my former writing group, we submitted to each other via e-mail one week in advance of the meeting, and were relaxed enough that a person could ask us for a day or two extension if needed -- but it was expected that they ask. This worked very well for us.

May. 21st, 2012 09:24 pm (UTC)
Interesting. I find that style of critique quite useful (though it's important to have a strong moderator).

Thanks for sharing, Amy :)
(Deleted comment)
May. 21st, 2012 09:26 pm (UTC)
It's funny, but as I read the first part of your last paragraph, I found myself thinking about my old gran ;)

Thanks for the input, Barbara. It's good to see you back online :)
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