Writing Group 101
Serious writing projects inevitably come with serious obstacles. Writers who are in it for the long-haul often need support to help them move projects forward and get early feedback on their writing.
I got lucky in finding a tight-knit writing group in my Maryland community. These fellow writers helped me along the completion of my entire first draft of The Audacity of Sara Grayson, as well as subsequent revisions. They helped me see things I couldn’t see on my own. The group also provided me with additional incentive to complete different stages of my book and the emotional support to go the distance with my novel.
Writing can be a lonely endeavor and a good writing group can help provide needed strength, feedback and perspective to be successful.
How to Find a Writing Group
This is often the most challenging part of the process. A good place to start is by becoming active in a local or state writers association. Some of these associations actively support multiple writing groups, but more importantly it is one of the places that writers in your local area gather in person or online.
Writing conferences and workshops provide opportunities to connect with writers in related genres. Keep an eye out for people who ask great questions or make insightful comments. Networking with other writers at these events can give you a start to developing relationships with other writers.
Also, pay attention to your connections on social media. Who is reading what you’re reading and commenting in ways that signal their viability as a writing partner? Forming relationships with other writers through your social media platforms can give you access to potential writing group partners who live outside of your area. With access to so many online collaboration tools these days, it’s easy to connect a small group virtually without ever having to meet face-to-face. This can definitely expand your possibilities for finding writing partners outside of your local community.
Don’t be shy about asking around. When you meet other writers online or in person, let them know you are interested in joining a critique group. Ask if they know of any groups that may be a good fit for you. Simple questions like this can expand your network of writers and make a difference in finding your writing group.
You can also find writing groups through other social networks that exist in your life already, such as your work, church, PTSA, sports, HOA, book club, and other community groups you may participate in. I actually found my group through speaking at a church activity in which I talked about my writing journey. A fellow writer was in attendance and asked if I might be interested in joining their critique group.
In the end, if you are really passionate about finding an effective writing group, you may need to take the initiative to launch one. Start by inviting a friend or two to join you. On my website, I share various Writing Group Tools that may help you create a group structure that can work for you.
Finding the Right Fit
Writing Groups are like marriages — you dream of finding the perfect partner, and in the end, you are lucky to find someone willing to put up with you for a long period of time (and to make it work, it requires as much from you as your partner).
Considerations in finding a critique group with the right fit includes the level of writing experience of group members, genre, frequency of meetings, scheduling, and a host of other factors that may impact whether the group works for you.
I believe that the most productive and effective writing groups include a small group of people that meet regularly over a longer period of time, at least six months. These group situations provide the most helpful long-term support and your writing partners have more context for your work as they see it progress over a longer period of time.
If you are just beginning your writing journey, a writing group that includes some emerging authors like you might be helpful as well as some who are further along in their journey. Writers who write similar or related genres are often a great fit for feedback, but it isn’t required. I’ve had really helpful feedback from non-fiction writers on my fiction. If you are triggered by horror or heavy themes of abuse, you may want to consider the type of content a writing group may be reviewing.
Just like the process of finding a long-term partner, you may need to go on some dates with different groups before you find the right fit. I share a Writer Profile form on my website that can be used to review new potential members to identify appropriate fit.
Setting Ground Rules
Often group dynamics can be challenging for critique groups if there are not clear expectations or ground rules. Here are some key factors that are important to clarify in establishing or rebooting a writing group:
- How are the writing group members selected? Is it an open group or is there a process for determining who can join? Is that process clear for everyone?
- Is there a minimum or maximum number of writers in the group? Is there a minimum required to hold a meeting?
- Is there a commitment for the amount of time that writers commit to being a part of the group?
- What is the frequency of the meetings and are they on a particular schedule?
- What is the process for planning and notifying group members of the meeting date, time and location? What about decisions and notification for cancelling?
- What are attendance expectations for each member?
- Is there an expectation of notifying the group when someone can’t attend?
- How and when is writing submitted for review by the group? What format is that writing in? Does each person need to submit something for review in order to attend?
- What are the feedback expectations for the group? Is feedback shared verbally or submitted in writing or both? If so, when and in what format?)
Creating a written document that answers these basic questions can remove a lot of confusion and frustration for members. I provide a Ground Rules Tool on my website that can be used to create a set of guidelines for writing groups to have clear expectations.
Sharing Your Work
Be realistic with your expectations of what the group can give you. This often involves sharing a piece that is not too lengthy (within your group’s agreed guidelines) and giving context for your piece when necessary. This could include telling your writing group where you are at in your writing process and what would be most helpful.
It’s important to be gracious with the critique you receive. Being defensive doesn’t create an atmosphere for sharing constructive feedback. Stay curious. Take what is given, answer and ask questions of your readers, and thank the group for their time. Of course, you don’t have to incorporate all recommendations, but it’s helpful to be open and grateful for any feedback given.
I share a Writing Submission form on my website that can be used by writing group members.
When to Know If a Group Is Not For You
Sometimes a group may not be a good fit for you. And sometimes groups that start out as a good fit, may not be after time. This is where clear expectations in ground rules is important. It may be that the expectations or requirements of a group may not fit your schedule or needs. It may be that the writing group members have changed or you are at a different stage in your writing project or in your needs as a writer. Don’t be afraid to take a break or graciously leave a group.
Sometimes we don’t want to let a good thing die. This is where the “reboot” comes in. It may be that new leadership or facilitation is needed. It may be that the group needs to establish new ground rules (or start following their ground rules to begin with). If you want to keep your group together, then the tools on my website may be helpful to create new structure, expectations and possibly realign the membership of the group.
I share a Writing Group Assessment that can be used to evaluate a new group or especially to reboot a struggling group. The assessment could be taken by all members and the results shared so a discussion about next steps can take place. This can be a good way to try to reboot something worth saving.
Be a Contributor, Not a Moocher
My last bit of advice is to give more than you get. Be a contributor, not a moocher. If you invest in giving quality, authentic feedback to others, and commit to attend and support the group, then you are more likely to have those efforts reciprocated by others.
Writing groups have helped me tremendously in my own writing journey. Writing can be a solitary journey and finding the support of a small group of like-minded individuals can make all the difference.