My Ideal Writers' Group
My Ideal Writers’ Group – Seven Ways to Make It Work
I bet we each have an idea of what a perfect writer group should be. Many an article has been written on the topic. After hanging out with writers groups from coast to coast for nigh on to 30 years, I offer yet another view – my own. Spoiler: the slant is decidedly toward publishing everything written.
Get To Know Each Other: Although we can’t know for sure who will be compatible, having a social hour where potential members can tell who they are, what they write, and what their goals are can help. Social banter can tell us a lot about each other. Note: Avoid crowded, noisy restaurants. I went to a restaurant/bar meetup once and I came home with ringing ears and no clue who my fellow writers were. Outcome: choose your members well.
Publish or Not: I am convinced writers need to be where they can reach their primary goals. Some authors want a casual reading group and some have the ambition to publish. These disparate goals do not mix well. I once visited a group that read and then said nothing at all about the work. “We just enjoy meeting and reading,” the leader told me. I was out the door. I wanted to publish. Be sure the members’ goals match.
Find Your Focus: Think about focusing on one genre and even one sub genre. In a multi-genre group, members often have to listen to work they are not attuned to and, even worse, have to critique a piece in a genre they know nothing about. We writers not only write in our genres, but we read widely in them. When I am working in memoir, for example, I want memoir geeks to critique my work. And I feel for anyone who asks me to critique their poetry.
Have Timely Rules: Not a lot. Enough to keep on time and on task. Most importantly, have a time limit for each member to read and to be critiqued. And have a gentle reminder to those who veer off into personal stories. Ask members to be on time to the meeting and to be ready with their work.
Be Kind: Present the pluses of a piece, and then gently bring on the minuses. Don’t do what I heard someone say once in a group: “Charlotte, you need to go home and read more widely and broaden your knowledge of literature. Your work is shallow.” Charlotte had been reading everything she could get her hands on since she was two. I credit Charlotte with not reaching across the table with a swift punch. (Addendum: Be sure you know what the heck you are talking about when you offer advice.)
No Swords Drawn: Author defenses are not needed. It’s not your PhD thesis. It’s a rough draft of a story you will probably revise 4-8 times anyway. Chill. You have the right to take or leave what is said about your work. No need to defend yourself.
Bring It! I have been in writers groups where some members showed up week after week with no work to critique. They had excuses my kids wouldn’t even use in their fake excuse notes for school. Just couldn’t get it going. Needless to say, this makes for a pretty boring writers group session. And short. If you sign on, try to commit to showing up with something in your hand.