July 9, 2015

6 Questions to Ask Before Joining a Writing Group

Members of my writing group, at a reading celebrating
two of us as winners of a contest.
Last week, my post provided  four tips to help you get started writing.  One of those tips was to join a writing group. Many people struggle with this one.

Why?  They don't know where to find a group.

Check with your independent book store.  Often, they know of local groups.  Also, search online for local writing groups.  Many of them have a web presence.  Check the local coffee shop. Writers love to hang out there.  Ask around.  If you can't find one after doing all of these things, then odds are you've found several writers.  Start your own group.

If you do find a writing group, how do you know it's right for you?

Many writers visit my local group.  Some stay, some don't.  Before you commit to a group, especially if there is a membership fee, ask the following questions:

What genres does your group represent?
My group, a chapter of South Carolina Writers' Workshop (SCWW), is multi-genre.  For some people, that works.  For others, you might want to find a group that focuses on your specific genre.

What's the meeting process?
Even within SCWW chapters, the process is quite different.  Find out what they do and how they do it before you make a decision.

What are your feedback guidelines?
It's hard to put your baby (your writing) in front of a group and receive feedback.  Does the group have prescribed methods for providing feedback or is it a free-for-all?  I've participated in both and find the prescribed methods more to my liking, but you might like a free-for-all environment.

How many people are in the group?  How many people get to have their writing critiqued each time?
This will vary from each group.  I belong to a large group, typcially 12 or more in attendance, but in three hours we can only critique the works of 9 people.  Most groups are smaller than ours and the members have committed to receiving and reading the work in advance.

How many times can I visit before I have to commit?
SCWW's bylaws state that a visitor can attend three meetings before joining SCWW.  Many groups will not critique your work unless you've committed to joining, either.  Some groups request a sample of your work for preview before approving your admittance into the group.

Are any of your members published?
This will help you identify a few things about the group.  If all or some of them are published, then you know this group has something to offer in validated feedback. If a few are published, then the group does have some success stories.  If none of them are published, then ask if that is their goal.  If it is, then you've found a group of people who are pursuing writing for the same reason as you.

As you can see, there are quite a few points to consider when selecting a writing critique group.  Find one that works for you and stick with it. Your writing group will be there to encourage you, to provide a shoulder when your work is rejected, and to celebrate your successes. They will become your writing family.

What else would you ask a writing group?

3 comments:

Charlotte Babb said...

The comment about genre is very important. While I don't read or write romance, I believe I could critique the characterization and the flow of the story.

If more than a few of the members of the group do not feel that they can critique outside their preferred genre, then find another group. While there are different expectations of different genres, it's good to know that the other writers are familiar with more than just their own genre and are well-read generally.

Fantasy and science fiction are not that far from romance, mystery and westerns except for settings. Good stories and strong characters transcend genre.

Monet Jones said...

A very good and useful post, Barbara.

Barbara V. Evers said...

Charlotte, those are some good points about genre. I will add that there are some distinct differences for each genre, and you need to know them. For example, due to the massive world building in scifi and fantasy, you can get away with more narrative than in some genres. BUT that narrative shouldn't be explaining an accepted and familiar concept in the genre.

Monet, as always, thanks for your comments, too.