Welcome back to the second part in this series on writing groups. Last week, we discussed the things to look out for when joining a writing group (for those of you who missed that, it can be found here). This week, it’s pros and cons.
I firmly believe that the only two things every writer needs are a good notebook and a writing group. The former seems to be a given, at least for most. The latter, on the other hand, has encountered more resistance. Trust me, you NEED a group. You don’t necessarily need to join an established group; one you set up with friends will do just fine.
So, let’s look at the pros and cons of writing groups.
1. Learning experience
A good writing group will challenge you to push your knowledge of the craft beyond what you may be used to. The other members can be a source of inspiration and offer a wealth of information on grammar, style, formatting, and even an insight into the publishing industry. The biggest thing you’ll learn is confidence: confidence in your writing, confidence to share your work with others, and confidence to listen to and give constructive criticism.
2. Find your voice
If there’s one thing a writing group does well it’s to encourage you to find your voice. Through critiques of your work, regular readings, and guidance from other members about what they like and don’t like, you will find your voice starting to show through in your work. We all know how hard it is to discover your writing voice but, with the help of a group, you will find that when it does bubble to the surface you will know.
3. Generation of ideas
Writing groups, especially those that encourage workshops and exercises, are great forums for idea generation. Even ones that don’t do anything formal are still a melting pot of ideas and discussion.
4. Beta-reader pool
What better place to find your next set of beta-readers than a writing group. At least they’ll know what you’re going through.
5. Support Network
A good group is like your best friend, always there when you need them. They’re the ones who’ll help you through your low points, act as sounding boards when you need to think through plot holes, and just tell you to stop being ridiculous when the doubts set in.
We join writer’s groups for the constructive criticism they afford us but not all groups seem to grasp this. A few are more concerned with promoting their “star” writer’s work than functioning as a group. On the subject of constructive criticism, honesty is essential for it to be worth anyone’s time. Some groups have a real problem with been honest with a writer about their work. It may be done for the best of reasons (i.e. not wishing any offence) but it’s useless.
A writing group is only useful if people attend. You need to be sure that you (and others) can afford the time commitment of a weekly/fortnightly/monthly meeting. The more infrequent the meetings, the limited involvement and benefit you’re going to get from it.
For a group to function well, it needs its members to interact with each other. This may be a terrifying thought; we didn’t become writers to “deal with people”, most of us become writers because we are unable to do just that. The old adage that you only get out what you put in is key.
There are many writers’ groups that are free to join, most of these dwell in the realms of cyberspace. Others meet at a physical location and, because of dirty words like “room hire” and “entry fees”, charge. It’s up to you to decide if the charges are reasonable and ones that you want to pay out.
The size of a group could have you vying for attention with the other writers. Consider the size of the group you’re looking to join and how well organised it is. Do members have to shout over each other to be heard or does everyone have a say and a turn to read/comment?
Next time: Writing Groups and Development.