Online writing groups and resources abound, but there’s nothing like in-person feedback to help an author grow. Hearing the inflection in a critique partner’s tone and witnessing the dynamic discussion that a writing group spins in response to your words can be humbling, educational, empowering. The challenge is how to find a real-world group to plug into – and how to get the most from it. Here are four things to consider when trying to connect with a group:
If you live in a major metropolitan area, writerly activities probably abound (though Murphy’s Law says the group that sounds like the best fit will be the one in the least accessible location). If you live a more rural existence, you may have to be open to traveling longer distances to get to a group. In either case, at some point you’ll have to decide if you’re willing to travel for a more selective group – keeping in mind how that commute may impact your ability to attend regularly – or whether you’d rather seek a more inclusive group closer to home. OR you can do both, if you’ve got the time. The key is to consider up front how much time you’re willing to put into the commute and what you expect in return. For myself, I’ve found if the round-trip commute exceeds the amount of time at the meeting, then the distance is too great.
If you’re writing a romance novel, you probably want to connect with other romance writers. The benefit to joining a group tailored to your genre is that you can share information on trends, agents and publishers, or contests and award opportunities. That said, it can also be nice to get feedback from those who aren’t mired in the evolving dramas of your genre, who won’t rush to judgment based on what an industry insider may have recently tweeted. Plus, the feedback you get from people outside your genre can feel more authentic – like you’re getting it from real readers – and they may have writing experience you don’t have and that will help strengthen your product or make it appealing to a broader market.
This can be a sensitive question – should your group include writers of all experience levels? I say ‘yes,’ (and not just because I’m still at the far left of the experience bell curve). Mentorship benefits both parties. It’s great to connect with people who have been there/done that and can share their tips, go-to resources, and maybe even connections. But emerging authors bring a fresh eye and lots of heart to any group. It’s good to have a balance of those who will keep asking questions with those who think they have most of the answers.
The key to figuring out emotional fit is to first determine your motivations for connecting with a writing community. Are you seeking a group that fosters time to write, or are you looking for feedback? Some writers want a group to validate their efforts, to cheer them on, and are not really interested in being critiqued or in critiquing others. Others feel empowered to provide extensive (excessive?) levels of feedback, and seem to relish tearing another’s work apart. Both approaches are fine, as long as everyone else in the group understands that’s how the group operates. However, mix those two approaches together and you’re going to have a fairly unpleasant encounter sooner or later. It’s worth your time to discuss early on how the other members approach participation and criticism, and to be honest with yourself about whether that is going to be a good fit for you.
The first time you walk in to a new writing group can feel intense.
You’re taking your raw creative self and introducing it, and the work you’ve produced, to other people whom you may not know well. But good news – you will get to know them and it will get easier! Here are four tricks to help your real world writing community come together and run smoothly.
I believe in trying things on – shoes, clothes, groups. There’s no way to know if you’ll find a fit if you don’t try, and it’s only fair to have a return period without penalty. Once you’ve met with a group a few times though (making your best effort to attend consistently while you’re in the trial period), it’s time to decide if this is the right group for you. If it is, then it’s worth it to attend regularly – to get to know the other writers and their projects. If you’re not, politely excuse yourself and move on. Do excuse yourself though, so that the group isn’t left wondering if they should continue to reach out to you.
Isn’t it funny how we writers will agonize over the right word to capture an emotion, the feel of something, the exact hue of a dream – but when we’re reading someone else’s work and our reaction is, ‘nah,’ or ‘I love this bit.’ It’s fine if this is your first reaction and you note it in the margins as you read on. Before providing your feedback to another author, though, go back through your notes and question your reactions. Why didn’t you like that section? What didn’t work? Or why did you love it? What specifically made that scene pop? Oh, and always, always, always lead with something positive.
This may not be your day job. It’s possible, likely even, that most of the people in your group will not be professional authors in the sense that ALL they do every day is churn out best-selling books. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be as professional as you are capable of being when relating to other members of your writing community. Be reliable. Be clear and concise when feedback is requested. Consider your tone. If someone shares a draft that’s in need of a lot of work, don’t red line every typo or internal inconsistency you find. Speak to the bigger picture issues. Approach flaws with tact and constructive criticism. Be sure to acknowledge strengths.
Consider how your actions and words will be perceived by the author facing you, who has entrusted you with the revelation of their writer goals and possibly even their work. Yes, some of us can be precious about these things, but I’m pretty sure no one’s writing career was ever sabotaged by kindness – either in the giving or the receiving.
So now that you’ve given thought to what sort of writing community you want to be part of, and how to make sure it’s off to a smooth start, how do you find and/or build one? Guess what – I’ve got (you guessed it!) four tips for that too.
- Let people know you’re a writer and interested in finding other local writers. I know many of us prefer to hide our creative secret identities from the arena of public awareness, treating our writing like magical artifacts best kept hidden from the muggles we know. But if no one knows you’re a writer, then it’s really hard to find others like you. Be bold! Declare you intentions, and see what the universe is ready to dish up to help you on your way.
- Build your virtual presence. On its face, this may seem counterintuitive to finding a real world group, but the more writers you know on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc., the more likely that some of those people will be in your geographic area, or know people who are. So get social online, and be open to allowing it to go local.
- Check out your local library and community/coffee shop bulletin boards. You’d be amazed how often these advertise local writing groups or authors seeking readers. Same with local writerly publications, if your area offers any.
- Go to writerly events. Then talk (yes, I can feel the anguish this causes the introverts) to other people there. Maybe they know of local writing groups you could try out. Or maybe just like you, they’re looking.
You’re ready, writer! You know what you’re looking for in a real world writing community, you know how to find them, and you’ve got the tools to make sure those in-person interactions are helpful to everyone. Good luck, and happy connecting!