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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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(Deleted comment)
May. 21st, 2012 09:28 pm (UTC)
Hi Karin,

i hate to admit it, but it's true. On this blog, the comments are almost always more interesting than the actual post :)
(Deleted comment)
May. 22nd, 2012 09:06 am (UTC)
Good points all. I think writing group needs to have a clearly-defined expectation of what it hopes to achieve (and what's expected of its members). It also needs clear rules of engagement for critique purposes as well as a strong moderator.

Thanks for sharing, Jenn :)

PS: I like Becky's post on flexible critique groups (http://beckylevine.com/2011/01/14/friday-five-flexible-critique-groups/) :)
May. 22nd, 2012 12:23 am (UTC)
I've been in a number of writing groups over the decades, mostly as the facilitator. — in prisons, libraries, private homes, adult education colleges, neighbourhood centres, and one university.

The biggest impression I usually get (with a few exceptions) is the feeling of homecoming, to be among the like-minded who share my passion. Exceptions are those with undue earnestness, pretensions, and judgmental attitude.

I find that learning happens best in an atmosphere of laughter, writers learn by doing, and every comment is worth taking note of, although you might not end up doing as suggested.

People can be intimidated and quite put off by having their work torn apart. Err on the side of caution there, until all are very comfortable with each other — even then, it is more a matter of 'how can this work best?' than 'what's wrong with this?'

Some people can spell, some can't. I tell people who can't, 'Don't worry; that's what editors are for.' No good them getting hung up on irrelevancies. Spelling ability has no correlation with writing talent. (Grammar, however, can be important — as a tool of meaning — but should be examined during revision, not creation.)

I heartily recommend Natalie Goldberg's 'Writing Down the Bones' and 'Wild MInd' as the foundation of any writing group.

Edited at 2012-05-22 12:24 am (UTC)
May. 22nd, 2012 12:50 am (UTC)
My current group (in which 8-12 people out of 16 are likely to show up on any occasion) has evolved a simple format: Half an hour talking about where we're at in our own writing, taking it in turns. We can include 1 minute of sharing personal stuff. We may also include discussion of writing in general during this time, and any 'housekeeping' matters. And we can eat lunch if we haven't already. Then an hour to read any writing we wish to share. We do often have specific homework but it's not compulsory. The non-specific homework is always 'write something' but even that is not compulsory. We recognise that there are'input' times and that shit happens. We provide photocopies for people to look at and mark during the reading aloud.. We keep it to 2 pages max. At the end of every month we devote a whole meeting to anyone who wants longer work critiqued. They must supply a copy by email at least a week previously.

Then we have a quick tea-and-toilet break, followed by an hour and a half of writing exercises. We read out the results around the circle, with little comment. People are free to say 'Pass' if they have produced something too personal to share.

Ground rules:
Swearing is permitted, even encouraged.
Self-derogatory comments before reading, such as, 'This isn't much good' are forbidden. (Though they can be said in the writing. Anything and everything can.)

May. 22nd, 2012 09:08 am (UTC)
Re: PS
A clear set of ground rules are a must.

Thanks for the input, Rosemary :)
Re: PS - snaky_poet - May. 22nd, 2012 12:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: PS - jongibbs - May. 22nd, 2012 03:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 22nd, 2012 12:59 am (UTC)
I belong to several writing groups (one a national one I founded myself- SpecFicNZ), and the key thing I look for is networking and a nice balance of give-and-take.

For example, I recently joined a local writing group after moving back to the US. They sent me a member pin in an envelope- not much else in there. They seem to ask for a lot of help on their forum and mailing list, but I'd like to see them do something for me as a member before I volunteer a lot of my time to do something for them. After all, I just paid them for something (not sure what so far, though).

I did go to a Reading they gave at a local Con (not to read, just to observe for future reference). The reading was well-attended and well-organized, but later when I went to the org table at the Con to introduce myself as a new member the two ladies at the table barely gave me the time of day. Seems since I was a member already, they had no interest in me.

I would ask, what are you going to do for your members? What are the benefits for them for joining. If you give them something, they will probably give back in return, but it is up to you as the coordinator to give first, to prove yourself worthy.
May. 22nd, 2012 09:19 am (UTC)
sent me a member pin in an envelope- not much else in there.

I've seen the equivalent a few times. It's strange, as if the folks behind the writing group seem more focussed on getting new members than keeping the ones they've got.

What's happening with SpecFicNZ now you're back here?
(no subject) - rippatton - May. 22nd, 2012 03:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 22nd, 2012 01:44 am (UTC)
I'm a pretty new member of the DFW Writer's Workshop, and although it's not perfect, it's been around for 30 years, is still going strong, and I can *totally* see why.

There are usually about 30-40 people who show up each week; we split up into smaller groups of 6-10, and members take turns reading their work aloud and receiving critique. (The verbal format has taken some getting used to, but I can see its advantages - you definitely hear mistakes that you might not see.) Pretty much every genre and age group and skill level is represented, which is important to me, and I like the fact that groups are assembled at random - sure, sometimes you get great folks and sometimes the chemistry's just not there, but it goes a long way towards fostering new friendships, and ensuring that people don't just clique up and tune out.

One thing that made a giant impression on me: every week, some of the members go out to eat at IHOP right after the meeting. My very first week, I was invited to join them, and went, and found out about 45 minutes in that I was sitting and BSing about comic books with a guy who's published like seven books, with one of the biggest mega-publishing houses around, and is pretty dang famous. Talking to ME of all people!

So I guess what I'm saying is, I think it's important to have a mix of people in every respect. It'll generate some friction, sure - any worthwhile grouping will - but it also ensures that the group doesn't homogenize itself to death.
May. 22nd, 2012 09:22 am (UTC)
I know what you mean about mixing. After GSHW meetings, everyone's invited to the local diner for lunch and a chinwag. It's agreat way to make people feel part of something.

Thanks for sharing :)
May. 22nd, 2012 12:07 pm (UTC)
I have to say, a writing group should create progress. Not just in my own writing (though getting rid of some of those mistakes is always nice) but also by giving the participants a push up the learning curve.

My own experience with real-life writing groups is limited to two different groups, with the current being the best by far. We have a good atmosphere and talk about other things than writing, but that doesn't stop us from being honest with each other when something doesn't work.

And most importantly: We aim for constructive criticism. If something doesn't work, we try to give each other ideas to fix it. The author may or may not use the feedback, but it usually provides useful examples about how others would write a particular scene.
May. 22nd, 2012 02:56 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the input, Jakob. By the way, Your Daily Science Fiction story turned up in my inbox the other day.

Nice one :)
May. 22nd, 2012 09:22 pm (UTC)
I never joined a writing group because of distance. Gas is especially dear nowadays for people of humble means who maintain day jobs which help fuel, in some way, the pipe dream of being published.

After meeting you at the Ocean County Library, hearing tales about plagiarism from a handful of people gives me pause. Ideas are dime a dozen, plagiarism should be considered flattering and motivation to do something new.

Yet there's the idea of "This is my baby! The best I'll ever do." I'm only human and this shortsightedness gets in my way.
May. 22nd, 2012 09:44 pm (UTC)
Hi Adrian,

I know what you mean about tales of plagiarism.

That said, in my experience, the vast majority of plagiarism stories, while no less upsetting for the writer in question, turn out not to be plagiarism stories so much as 'Someone else wrote a story with the same basic idea as mine.'
May. 25th, 2012 12:39 pm (UTC)
Read/critique writing group
Both groups I attend are free (no fees) and meet frequently: one weekly, one twice a month. Both are structured. (I left one that was of a social chat and refreshments variety. I left another because the writers were mostly inspirational and/or personal memoir writers who wrote to entertain each other and were not interested in publication or writing progress.)

Readers in the groups I attend now are scheduled weeks in advance, ms max length to read each time is 10 pg, dbl space, copies for all. Feedback is both written and oral. Oral in turn so no one hogs the time. Writers come and go but there is a core group of 4 or 5 serious writers in both groups and we know each other's style. Both groups are congenial and welcome new members or visitors.

In the weekly group, newcomers are not permitted to give critique orally (they can make notes on the ms.)until they have attended three meetings. This saves time during oral feedback it gives them time to get acquainted with the way the group functions and also the WIPs. Dilettantes self-deport. It's a celebration of sorts when "the muzzle comes off" those who stay.

We critique the writing, not the content based on personal preference. We periodically have open time to discuss and share info about craft, conferences, the industry, etc.
May. 25th, 2012 02:19 pm (UTC)
Re: Read/critique writing group
Sounds like you have a good thing going. Thanks for sharing :)
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