Writing Groups: Good, Bad, or Ugly?

[contact-form][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form] As writers, we hole-up, dig in, hide; become introverted for our existence in order to pen creatively. We cut ourselves off from society just so we can hone our craft. Then it hits us: Am I writing for myself? Others? An audience? Should I get out more, maybe shower and brush my teeth and all that weird shit?

I was recently in a writing group where I told a member that a line in his poem was creepy. My nearest attendee whispered, while laughing, “You can’t tell him that.” Ahh, but indeed I did tell him exactly that. I told him it was a creepy line, but it worked for the intended purpose of the poem and fit perfectly well into the stanza where it was placed. I liked it! Good critique? Maybe. Honest critique? Yes. Was it said in a manner befitting the group setting and ideologies? Yes. Honest – check. Positive – check. My critique was not destructive or hurtful – check.

Here are five reasons why joining a writing group is a good idea.

1. Feedback
It seems trivial, but a writer needs feedback. In order for growth to develop, the writer must know if his work is capable of being read. Writers tend to have the ability to critique other writers so go forth and be critiqued.

2. Networking
A writers group provides the opportunity to meet other writers, editors, real-life published authors, and other people tied to the writing community. Someday when you are ready to take your have your novel published, you will have established a working network of professional individuals who can help you out or put you in the right direction.

3. Promotion
Look, we all have shit to promote so let’s just dispel the myth that we don’t and we go to writing groups to test things out. It’s thought that the members of a writing group will support one another because they’ve shared experiences and connected through meetings and conversations about writing and the experiences thereof; this should be a fact. Members will often support other group members at book signings, conventions, or events. Be warned: Promotion should never be the sole reason for joining a writing group. We will sniff you out, steal your pens, and burn your paper. We may even take your ideas too.

4. Sharing
The group is the place to ask questions and get answers. As a whole, writers tend not to want to share information with just anyone. After all, why should we? That bastard might just be fishing for story or book ideas. I digress. As long as I take my Xanax I’m fine. Don’t get too close though.

The writing group is a safe place to share information on conferences or writing events. It’s also a great place to learn what is happening in the local writing community.

As I mentioned right up there, look up three inches, it’s the place to bounce ideas and get answers. “When writing a novel of erotica, can I use the word ‘penis’ 973 times?” “Should I use a hyphen-minus, em dash, en dash, or just draw a little line in the damn sentence?” “Should the fight scene be put before or after the sex scene or should I just combine the two?”

Shared experiences from within the group can prove beneficial and provide that aforementioned growth. I learned that word at a writers group, and NOT from a subpoena. Writers will more openly discuss their experiences with agents, editors, and publishers to group members helping gain a better understanding of the industry.

5. Socializing
Let’s just get this out there right away: Writers are very cool people. Very cool. Period. There, that officially breaks the stereotype. I’m not actually sure which one, but be forever comfortable that it is now broken.

Writing is solitary, sometimes lonely work. It’s just us with our characters and storylines. Sure, maybe the cat jumps up by us every now and then, or the dog gives us a look, but let it be known it’s only because they’re hungry.

The common interest of a writing group may help people connect, causing friendships to blossom, which in turn helps out with sharing, promotion, networking, and feedback. See how I wrapped that all up there? Yup, writers are cool people!

Here are five reasons why joining a writing group is a bad idea.

I understand that this is directly counterproductive to that which I just wrote about the good reasons to join a writing group; however, be it as it may, your counterintuitiveness to my countertendency is not contradictory. I have a counterproposal.

1. You crack easily
If you’re the defensive type who will positively and categorically defend his work to the end, the group isn’t for you: “Look, I wanted to have three main characters – yes, all named Howard – because my intention was to show that they were all triplets…you just don’t get it.” If a writer isn’t open to receiving honest critique, and only wants praise, ego-stroking, and to hear how wonderful his stories are, then the group won’t be beneficial to honing his writing skills. Also, see dickhead.

2. You can’t handle the truth – of positive criticism
See number one above. If it is difficult to hear criticism of your work and it is hard to fight the urge to argue or break out into a brawl, then the group is not for you. You haven’t fully grasped that crazy-ass concept that fully honest and increasingly insightful criticisms from other writers are what will strengthen a your prose. It does. Really. You should try it. After you get over yourself, though.

3. Possible lack of specialization
If you’re seeking genre-specific feedback, say for that bondage and S&M novel, then the local-down-the-street-group might not be the place to find that response. Might I suggest the Internet for all things BDSM? Tweet me, I have a site in mind.

4. Limitations of other writers
Face it, just like in the real world; some people are better at certain things than others. Yes, it’s true. I know. I know. It was hard to take at first. But once I realized that I was on the other side… ANYWAY. In local writers’ groups there may be limitations and there is little choice if you’re looking for a face-to-face group.

5. Time constraints
This could go several ways. The group could take too long to complete. The group may only allow very short readings which could stifle your writing and limit you to short reads instead of the 1500 words that you intended to read and receive feedback on. There are only a few people to read; you could go a couple of weeks or even months between readings of your work. None of that is good by the way.

Like I said, writers are a cool bunch. A cool and CRAZY bunch.

We ask ourselves all types of questions about our writing, cut stuff out, rework things to make it a better fit, add characters and kill off a few along the way, and then when we think we have it, we throw our hands in the air and curse the heavens while crumpling up our fifth piece of paper because everything we just wrote was complete and useless shit.

Then when we finally have something good, we sit back and ponder this soul crushing, mind crippling thought: Who’ll read our dribble?

Sometimes the group experience can be altogether ugly. If it gets out of hand and the personal pronouns start to fly, the individual being critiqued will feel the need to get defensive. Group members need to remember to be objective, complimenting, helpful, and above all, respectful. And, as I’ve mentioned a few times, writers need to have broad shoulders and alligator skin to take the good, the bad, and the ugly.

If I didn’t have those, I would have been crushed when I was told that one cannot thunder from one location to another, as in walking, when, YES, in fact, one can thunder back to bed or thunder down a dark hallway.

And, to answer your last question: “What if they steal my work?” They won’t steal your work because it’s crap. Geez!

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