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Writing Groups: Why we need them


If you’re anything like me, some of the simple things about writing, which seem obvious now, were once an enigma. For example; I didn’t have a clue about basic formatting when I started. Several years back, I spent many, unhappy, hours editing two, novel-length, manuscripts after I learned about double-spacing.

Had I the sense to seek out a good writing group when I started, I might have avoided some of the classic errors made in the first 'draft' of my novel, Fur-Face, which included just about every rookie mistake on the technical, storytelling, and grammar ‘How to write wrong’ lists.

That said, no matter where you are in your writerly career, I believe you can benefit from belonging to a good writing/critique group.

Take the GSHW for example. New writers – at least, new writers who are prepared to accept that they don’t know half as much as they think they know – can learn the most fundamental ‘tricks’ of the trade from the group’s more experienced members, who, in turn, learn some of the finer skills of the craft from better writers in the organization and the many guest speakers who appear at our meetings throughout the year.

But it’s not just about improving our skills. On-line groups are fantastic, but, for me at least, they can’t hold a candle to a good in-person one. It’s a wonderful thing to walk into a room full of like-minded people and know that you’re not the only one who spends hour after hour typing out stories which no one but your long-suffering spouse may ever read.

Of course, you have to do your bit too. You don’t have to be a good writer to make a positive difference to a writing group. You never know how much a friendly greeting or a word of encouragement can mean to someone who’s wondering if he/she will ever see their name in print and on the verge of giving up.

Whether on-line or in-person, a good writing group gives you a sense of belonging, a feeling that, wherever you are on your journey, however far you still have to go, you’re at least heading in the right direction, and the path ahead is well-lit, well-trodden, and lined with folks prepared to help you along.

Writing is by nature a solitary business, but that doesn’t mean we have to do it alone.

How about you?

Do you belong to a writing group?

What do you get out of it?



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( 85 comments — Leave a comment )
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birdhousefrog
Dec. 5th, 2009 05:17 pm (UTC)
Hear, Hear! Sounds like what we were saying on the panel at Philcon. I'm glad GSHW works that way for you. I've been in plenty of groups and they've had a different focus. For me, there's nothing like spending 24-48 hours with like-minded writers for an intensive recharge of the creative batteries, with or without critiquing involved.

Oz
jongibbs
Dec. 5th, 2009 06:31 pm (UTC)
Cons are great too. This was my first year at PhilCon, I definitely plan to be there next year :)
asakiyume
Dec. 5th, 2009 05:21 pm (UTC)
I don't belong to a writing group, but I was lucky, when I first joined LJ, to be befriended by some wonderful writers, including amberdine and jmeadows, who were amazingly generous, sharing mentors. And since then, through LJ, I've come to be friends with more writers of all sorts. Just listening to what they have to say and sharing stories back and forth has been amazingly enriching and a real education.
bogwitch64
Dec. 5th, 2009 05:45 pm (UTC)
Ditto. Absolutely. Except for that Jon Gibbs guy. He's trouble. :-P (You got your buy last night with the happy dance you gave me, Gibbs. Today is a new day. Mwhahahahaa!)
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heleninwales
Dec. 5th, 2009 05:31 pm (UTC)
I don't belong to a formal writing group at the moment, but I have done in the past, starting with one of the BSFA's postal Orbiter groups and then getting online and discovering Critters and then one or two other online email based groups.

I now rely on a bunch of informal contacts made over the years and I've been taking creative writing courses too, which I've found concentrate the mind wonderfully.

I've never been a member of a face-to-face group, mostly for geographical reasons, but I wouldn't want to belong to a group where stories were read aloud and critiqued orally.
jongibbs
Dec. 5th, 2009 06:38 pm (UTC)
'... but I wouldn't want to belong to a group where stories were read aloud and critiqued orally.'

The Monmouth Creative Writers do that. I have to say, I found it very useful - especially when someone else reads your work aloud. That's not to say that we never got the occasional self-important twerp at a meeting, but those folks soon change, or move on.

Come to think of it, I no longer go to their meetings... ;)
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bondo_ba
Dec. 5th, 2009 05:37 pm (UTC)
I've never been much of a workshopper. I tend to trust my instincts and those of my beta reader...

I know, I'm nuts. But it seems to work well enough.
jongibbs
Dec. 5th, 2009 06:39 pm (UTC)
Your sales record speaks for itself :)
bogwitch64
Dec. 5th, 2009 05:43 pm (UTC)
Hmmm...how much of this was sparked by my recent writing group insanity?? :)

Despite this past week, I'm totally in favor of in-person writing groups. When I signed on to this group, it was billed as a Writer's SUPPORT Group, not a crit or workshop group. I'm not sure if I'd have gone the first time if I'd known it wasn't. I have a trusted, loyal group of readers whose critiques I can trust. I really don't need less experienced writers in that mix. That said, I'm still glad I joined. We DO need social interaction with our peers in person. Skill level aside, one experience we all share is the desire/need to write. If nothing else sparks, that alone counts for a huge part of why writing groups are necessary.
jongibbs
Dec. 5th, 2009 06:42 pm (UTC)
'...how much of this was sparked by my recent writing group insanity?'

I remember that post (and the apologetic email that awaited you when you got home), but this is more due to the GSHW Q&A event I went to the other night. A lot of the questions from the audience were basic things which made me realize how daft I was to have waited three years to seek out a writing group.
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karen_w_newton
Dec. 5th, 2009 05:49 pm (UTC)
There is no one answer when it comes to writing; the closest thing I would articulate to a rule is, no group is better than the wrong group, but a good writing group is a wonderful thing.

I belong to a group of spec fic writers called the Writers' Group From Hell. The name is something of a joke these days, and refers to its somewhat stormy past. We have varying levels of writing, in terms of interest as well as of ability, but all are well read in the field and willing to be honest without being brutal. I find them very helpful, but like any group, the single best part of belonging to it is that you gets lots of advice but you don't have to take any of it.

My husband calls them my support group.
jongibbs
Dec. 5th, 2009 06:45 pm (UTC)
'...to be honest without being brutal.'

Absolutely! Sad to say, some people seem to enjoy slagging off someone else's work a little too much.
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jdawson001
Dec. 5th, 2009 05:57 pm (UTC)
I've been a member of The Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror for about eight years now.

Through OWW I've made amazing writer friends, developed some great professional relationships, improved my writing, and learned an incredible amount about the craft.

I highly recommend it...

Jenn
jongibbs
Dec. 5th, 2009 06:46 pm (UTC)
That's interesting. I'll have to look them up. Thanks for the link, Jenn :)
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darkspires
Dec. 5th, 2009 06:03 pm (UTC)
Long time member of OWW and ditto to what Jenn said.
jongibbs
Dec. 5th, 2009 06:47 pm (UTC)
You too, huh? At the very least, I now know what OWW stands for. I've seen it around before, but had no idea until today :)
ajjones
Dec. 5th, 2009 06:04 pm (UTC)
When I first started submitting I was in a couple of online writer groups, but by god, writers can be some arrogant annoying wankers. So I ended up getting writing magazines instead, and buying every book I could find on editing and crafting. It was more productive (for me, anyway, I know some people benefit from groups)
jongibbs
Dec. 5th, 2009 07:00 pm (UTC)
It's a shame, but some folks seem to believe their role in a writing group is to demonstrate their lack of class and manners to all and sundry. I'm lucky that people like that have never bothered me, but I've seen writers hurt by spiteful, unhelpful critiques, when what they needed most was a guiding hand and some encouragement.

Like most things in life, when it comes to critiquing, I'm a great believer in catching people doing something right, as well as pointing out what's wrong. Even if all you can sincerely say is, 'Nice typing" ;)
kellyrfineman
Dec. 5th, 2009 06:22 pm (UTC)
I used to belong to a six-person in-person critique group that met monthly, but it eventually blew apart. Nowadays, I have two designated first readers (one of whom I meet with several times a week on writing "dates" and the other who is available by phone and email), plus I'm part of a small online support group (of sorts). It's good to have others to bounce things off of.

These days I don't need to worry about the basics so much (finally!), but it's good to get a read on whether something makes sense (be it a word, a line, a character or a scene), and to have someone "call" you on using, say, a tired cliché and whatnot.
jongibbs
Dec. 5th, 2009 07:03 pm (UTC)
Within the GSHW, I'm in a four-person critique group. We meet every month (after the regular GSHW meeting). I've found it invaluable, though I'm not sure they would say the same - I gave the poor devils a beta copy of Waking up Jack Thunder to read last month :)
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bogwitch64
Dec. 5th, 2009 06:49 pm (UTC)
"Some stories just feel like they're at the right place to me, and the few times I've thrown that kind of story to a group, it ended up not being particularly helpful."

I once submitted such a story to a group, not knowing there were three women in the group who did not want negative feedback on their own work, but were quite free with offering it. On a story I was happy with, one that the group (almost) as a whole thought ready for submission, one of these ladies absolutely NEEDED to find something wrong. What did she find? "I don't like the POV character's name. A name can really turn people off."

Sigh--I didn't last long there.
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bodgei
Dec. 5th, 2009 06:44 pm (UTC)
My writers group kinda imploded last year around x-mas. We had three members and one moved and a second went into some of the worst writers block ever.

Now we met once a month to watch and discuss movies (or go to cons or whatever)
jongibbs
Dec. 5th, 2009 07:16 pm (UTC)
I think once a month is fine, especially if your swapping work to write critiques on. Cons are a must for me now :)
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sandy_williams
Dec. 5th, 2009 07:07 pm (UTC)
I've belonged to a couple of writers groups. I enjoyed them for the most part. One I left because there were a few people who wouldn't let things go. For example, they had to convince others that the word 'and' should be used in certain places instead 'then' and would not drop the issue unless everyone else agreed. Plus, the group was an hour drive from me, so I looked for something closer to home.

I found a smaller group I really liked - good writing, good critiquing, good conversation - but even though it was a SFF group, none of the others really wrote or read my particular type of books.

I'd love to find a group that was closer to my urban fantasy/paranormal romance subgenres.
jongibbs
Dec. 5th, 2009 07:17 pm (UTC)
We should start an LJ community where people can advertize their writing group by location and seek out potential members for new ones.
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mongrelheart
Dec. 5th, 2009 08:35 pm (UTC)
I've been a member of an online writing group, psychocommagrlz, for about 5 years, and it's been tremendously helpful to me. We usually critique one story or book per month, and also have online "write-ins" in a chat room. We all met online but since then, most of us have met in person (we're scattered across the US & Canada, and recently got a new member from Australia). Some of us also have attended writing conferences together.

I couldn't agree more that although writing itself is a solitary activity, you need to have contact/socialization/support/etc with other people who are out there doing that solitary activity.

The GSHW sounds like a great group! I really like the idea of having guest speakers.

Edited at 2009-12-05 08:36 pm (UTC)
jongibbs
Dec. 5th, 2009 09:22 pm (UTC)
A good group is a definite boon :)
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bogwitch64
Dec. 5th, 2009 08:55 pm (UTC)
In NJ?
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( 85 comments — Leave a comment )

Things What I Wrote and Other Stuff

No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there


No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there















 











THE MEAGER PUDDLE OF LIMELIGHT AWARDS


Books by my writer friends - compressed

NJ Writing groups - compressed

NJ writing conference - compressed

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