As a writer, you already know that writing is a solitary act. As we capture the words on paper, we struggle on our own. We writers do some pretty peculiar things: sit in a chair for hours either scribbling furiously or staring at a blank screen; talk to ourselves in different tones and voices; make odd gestures in the air, capturing the words to describe how a touch feels on your skin.
Pretty strange stuff.
Non-writers don’t get it. While they try to be supportive, some of the stuff we do is downright odd. Only a fellow writer would understand. We all need a sense of community. A place where we can feel safe and understood. A place where we can be who we are. This is where the true value of belonging to a writers group lies.
If you’re considering joining a writers group, there are many choices. The key is to finding the one that works best for you. Here are some steps to follow to find the group that is right for you:
Step 1: Evaluate your needs.
Start with your most immediate reasons for wanting to join a group. Are you looking to hone and improve your writing skills? Would you like to receive feedback on your writing? Are you ready to publish but don’t know what to do next? Are you interested to meet other writers and get to know like-minded individuals. Identifying these immediate goals will help to identify the right kind of group for you.
Next, evaluate with honesty and humility, your writing experience level. How many stories have you written? Have you taken any classes or workshops? Do you have a story actually written? Or do you have a story idea in mind that you would like to write, but haven’t? If you’ve written a lot, you may find yourself too advanced for a group of newer, younger writers. If you’ve never written something, but think you’ve got a good story to write, a group with many professional writers may not be the place for you.
Examine the time and energy available to you that you are willing to commit to a group. All groups require a certain level of participation and commitment to be mutually beneficial to all participants. If you do not have much time available to you to be out of the home, an online group might work best for you. Also, you must be willing to share and contribute to discussions to gain the most benefit. If you’re only interested in what you can get, some groups may not be available to you.
Step 2: Understand the kind of groups available to you.
There are several types of writing groups available to you. While an in-person group would be great, online groups options are abundant. Both come in the following forms:
Writing Practice Groups. These groups are focused on the practice of writing. The hold regular meetings where the participants sit down and write through the session. Each writer can work on their own pieces, or create fresh pieces from prompts.
Critique Groups. These groups are created specifically for the exchange of feedback between each of the participants. Typically, prior to each session, the participants exchange their work with each other to read in advance. During the session, the participants exchange their thoughts on each other’s pieces. Given the often sensitive nature of the act of offering and receiving critique, most critique groups follow very strict guidelines to ensure that the sessions are beneficial to all.
Social/Support Groups. These groups are mainly focused on the social aspect of being a writer. The main goal of such groups is to create connections with other writers. During meetings, the members discuss the joys and ails of writing, their journeys to publication, their war stories and victories. Only a fellow writer will understand the plight of the other. Sometimes, other writers are invited to speak to the members to share their thoughts or give workshops or talks about certain aspects of the craft and the publication business.
Accountability Groups. These groups are focused on helping their members accomplish their tasks. Usually groups like these are created when all the writer members are on the same creative footing, such as creating their first drafts; completing revisions, etc. The members report to each other their progress at regular intervals.
Step 3: Identify the writers’ group that you would like to join.
Once you understand what kind of group you’re looking for, it’s time to start your search. There are three elements you should be looking for in considering a specific group. Some of these elements, you may be able to discern, early on, and some you may discover later on after participating.
- The group has a stated or identified purpose or mission:
The group must have a defined purpose or mission. Whether it is to simply be a support group for writers; or provide critique or other valuable feedback. While it is not necessary for the group to have a written down mission statement, a successful writers’ group’s main purpose must be clear shared by all its members. This mission must match your own goals. If not, you won’t feel like you are in the right place.
2. The group is structured.
How many members does the group have? Is there a leader? Are there other members who act as part of a leadership team? Are there subgroups within the whole that provides the support you are looking for? Are there any “secret groups” that seem to emerge within the group? Is the structure flexible? As the needs of a members of the group evolve, can the group address those changes? Are there opportunities for members to join the leadership team, or be a major contributor to the leadership?
A successful groups’ structure must be identifiable and unambiguous, and you must be comfortable with the structure of the group. If not, you could feel lost or like a guppy in a tank of sharks.
3. The group follows through.
Do the meetings happen as scheduled? Do they start on time? Do the members fulfill their commitments? Do the members participate in the activities with sincerity and cooperation? If you find that the group does not follow through, you will feel let down and disappointed. While this is one of the elements that is not discernible from the get-go, attending one or two meetings should be enough to figure out if the group will meet your needs.
Step 4: Join the group and evaluate your experience.
Once you’ve identified the groups (yes, groups) you are interested in, give them each a try. This is the only way to truly find out if the group is a good fit for you. Especially, whether or not the group follows through on their commitments.
Keep in mind that you must understand the requirements to be part of the group. Is there a membership fee? If yes, do they offer a free trial period? Look into what opportunities they offer aside from meeting attendance. In some groups, especially critique groups, there may be attendance/participation requirements in order to receive critiques. There are very specific reasons for this, and one of the foremost reasons is to keep the members work, dignity, and privacy safe.
Try to attend at least two meetings to get a better feel of the fit. You must leave the meeting (even the very first one) feeling invigorated, excited, and inspired. If at any point you feel unwelcome, insecure, or lost in the shuffle, the group may not be the right one for you.
Step 5: Try other groups.
It may take several attempts to find the right group for you. Don’t give up or be disappointed if a group doesn’t feel right. There are many options available. You will find a group for you.
Membership in a writers’ group is not a requirement to succeed in this business. You can certainly go it alone if that is your inclination. It certainly is a long journey though. Making friends and meeting people along the way, especially ones who understand your goals and your intended destination, sure makes it all the more enjoyable.
For your consideration:
The South Jersey Writers' Group was founded in 2007 to provide networking and development opportunities for local writers. Meetings are held regularly for topic-based discussion about the craft of writing and the publishing industry. Some of our members are published, some are working on it, others just write for themselves. We are all ages, all genres, all backgrounds, and all levels of experience. The group also offers a critique group, write-ins, blogfests, and workshops to their members and the public.
We are always open to new membership and offer a 60 day free trial membership period to all prospective members. Please visit www.southjerseywriters.com to sign up.