Writing groups. Some of us love them. Some of us hate them. I would never have completed my novel, The Gods of Second Chances, without having collaborated with fellow writers almost every week. Our group sets the expectation for me to bring pages. Spot on critiques led to multiple revisions of my manuscript. But while some writing groups work well, others are abysmal, whose members scatter away after one or two visits. For me, finding the right writing group is like finding the right place to work. It’s not about making close friends (though that happens) or sharing a nice bottle of wine (happens only on occasion). It’s working with people whom you respect in a mutually supportive space. Since the group I belong to gathers weekly around a large wooden table, I think of it as the four legs that support the table.
First Table Leg: Dedication to the craft. Are you and your fellow writers committed to writing as work? Do you spend most of the time on reviewing work or chitchatting? Are you consistently bringing in the pages? We had one very talented writer who would only turn in work every few months. “I only write when the muse strikes,” he intoned. If you are a writer you sit down and write, whether the muse is at your shoulder or she’s taking a long vacation without you in the Bahamas. That writer left after three months.
Second Table Leg: Honest Feedback. Find a group where critiques are aimed at your writing, not at you. Do not take honest criticism as an attack. It is a gift, one that you need to both give and receive with grace. I confess that sometimes I want to tell a colleague how I would write their book, but that is not very helpful. It only matters how they will write their book. That being said, no need to go into long defenses of your sentences. It doesn’t matter what your intent was when you wrote them. Does it work on the page or not?
Third Table Leg: Challenge. When I was learning to play tennis in college, the coach advised me to “rally with someone who is slightly better than you.” Same advice for writing groups. I want to find that writing colleague whose work I admire, from whom I can learn a thing or two. Find a group that is interested in the kind of writing you do and will help you get published!
Fourth Table Leg: Diversity. Some writing groups gather around a particular genre (mystery or romance), or a specific writing style. Our group evolved from a mixed group of styles, viewpoints, and manuscripts. Some in our group focus on comedic writing, others adult literary, young adult fiction, comedy, and memoirs. Different genders, and different ethnic and geographical backgrounds, all add to rich mix! There’s something to be learned in all of these, as long as the second table leg is in place.
What’s on the tabletop? Our manuscripts, our mutual respect, and shared joy when one of our manuscripts actually gets published.