Writing Groups 101
Are you thinking about starting a writing group? Joining one? And what is a writing group anyway? First things first:
A writing group is a bunch of people who come together to pursue the art or craft of writing.
There are many possibilities for a group’s structure and format. What these groups have in common is that they are a place to pursue something you care about—your writing— with other people. Many offer accountability, support, feedback and encouragement. In the best, you will improve your writing and make some good friends.
In this short guide to writing groups, we will share information on some of the common formats, help you figure out what kind of group might make sense for you, give tips on what to consider when starting or joining a group, and finally share some history and additional resources.
The 4 Hidden Dangers of Writing Groups
Note from Jane : Last week, I ran a comprehensive guest post on how to find the right critique group . To help add to the nuance and complexity of that issue, I’m happy to feature the following guest post by Jennie Nash ( @jennienash ), the Chief Creative Officer of Author Accelerator .
Writers love the idea of writing groups. Writing is, after all, a very lonely pursuit. You sit alone in a room wrestling your ideas onto the page, struggling to fend off the constant attacks of doubt. Your regular friends probably don’t quite get what you are doing and can’t help. So it makes perfect sense to join other writers who can help you navigate the joys and sorrows of the creative process.
Unfortunately, the reality of writing groups is far more complicated than that. Underneath the good intentions there are serious dangers lurking.
In my work as a book coach I often see the damage that writing groups do, and it is not benign. Writing groups can cause fatal frustration, deep self-doubt, and sometimes years of wasted effort. In this post I’m going to outline the most common dangers of writing groups, and will also propose some ways you could improve your group to give you more of what you need—and less of what you don’t.
1. No one tells the truth and no one really wants to hear it.
Most writing groups tiptoe around glaring weaknesses in the work being shared and sometimes tell outright lies about it, because they don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. All the writer hears is praise or vague criticism that isn’t very actionable, and so they assume that what they are writing is solid (if not awesome) and they plow on creating fundamentally flawed work.
Praise is wonderful—it feels good to hear it—but it is not very helpful for the writer committed to writing a book that engages the reader. Writers must find a way to welcome criticism, even harsh criticism, but writer’s groups tend not to foster this skill, and as a result, no one grows, no one learns, and people become deluded about their work—believing it to be better than it is.
At Pixar, truth-telling is a central part of the creative process. As Catmull writes:
In the very early days of Pixar, John, Andrew, Pete, Lee, and Joe made a promise to one another. No matter what happened, they would always tell each other the truth. They did this because they recognized how important and rare candid feedback is and how, without it, our films would suffer. Then and now, the term we use to describe this kind of constructive criticism is “good notes.”
Before we get to the good notes part, let’s look at the promise to tell the truth. That’s the critical thing a good writers group needs—not an implicit promise, but an actual commitment. Every single member of your group needs to understand the promise about telling the truth, believe in it, commit to it, and welcome it when it is their turn in the hot seat. This starts with a shift in mindset, which Catmull describes beautifully:
Naturally, every director would prefer to be told that his film is a masterpiece. But, because of the way [our group] is structured, the pain of being told that flaws are apparent or revisions are needed is minimized. Rarely does a director get defensive, because no one is pulling rank or telling the filmmaker what to do. The film itself—not the filmmaker—is under the microscope. This principle eludes most people, but it is crucial: You are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your idea, you will take offense when they are challenged. To set up a healthy feedback system, you must remove power dynamics from the equation—you must enable yourself, in other words, to focus on the problem, not the person.
Try the following fixes for your writing group:
- Every writer in your group needs to agree to speak the truth and to accept the truth. It helps enormously if the writers in the group have a similar level of expertise and experience, and if they share the same clearly stated goals. Someone writing a book because it’s cathartic and fun is in a very different place from someone writing a book for publication, and it could be that you need to shake up the composition of the group in order to be able to make a commitment to the truth. Making these changes can be heartbreaking—but that’s part of truth telling, too.
- Each member needs to speak with deep kindness and a sense of hope when it’s their turn to offer a critique. Mean-spirited attacks that leave you gasping for breath and feeling small are among the most damaging realities of all. There is a difference between telling the truth and being mean. Don’t allow mean.
- Each member needs to take a deep breath and welcome the truth when it’s their turn to hear it. Remember that when someone is criticizing your work, they are not criticizing you.
- Finally, the group needs to make a commitment to understanding what giving good notes is all about. Which brings us to No. 2 below.
2. Struggling writers are not often the best judges of struggling writing.
At Pixar, giving good notes happens in a meeting of what’s known as the Braintrust. “The Braintrust,” Catmull writes, “is made up of people with a deep understanding of storytelling and, usually, people who have been through the process themselves.” This is a critical concept that most writing groups don’t adhere to, because they can’t adhere to it. They’re often comprised of writers who are struggling to find their way for the first time, and it’s one of the main dangers of being in a writing group.
There is not one single thing wrong with struggle. Struggle is part of the creative process for everyone at every level, but why would you think that being in a room with other people who are also struggling with the same things you are, and who have no experience with that struggle, would be a good way to nurture your work? Yes, you might get camaraderie and community, which is nice, but by design, the odds of getting specific, focused, useful help with your story are low. Why is that? As Catmull writes:
While problems in a film are fairly easy to identify, the sources of those problems are often extraordinarily difficult to assess. … Think of it like a patient complaining of a knee pain that stems from his fallen arches. If you operate on the knee, it wouldn’t just fail to alleviate the pain, it could compound it. To alleviate the pain, you have to find and deal with the root of the problem.
A group of writers who are not trained to assess problems with a story or argument often get it wrong, or get it partially right, or demand specific remedies—not necessarily on purpose, but by a sort of unconscious group-think approach of what they like or don’t like. It’s not good. It comes without any assistance in how to move forward. You get the “it’s not working” feedback, but not the nurturing and patience you need to fix your problem, and certainly not the editorial understanding you need to prevent it from happening again. People may offer ideas for how they would fix things, or how they see your story or what they would do, but this is a sure path for crushing fragile new projects and wavering confidence.
So what exactly IS a good note? Here is the principle as Catmull describes it on his website:
Truly candid feedback is the only way to ensure excellence. When giving notes, be sure to include: What is Wrong What is Missing What Isn’t Clear What Doesn’t Make Sense A good note is specific. A good note does not make demands. Most of all, a good note inspires.
Copy that principle down and laminate it so you can look at it during your writing group critiques. It is so smart. It’s not about praise of any kind whatsoever (although Catmull does say that most Braintrust meetings start with the members praising the director.) And it is not about ways the writer should fix the problem. It’s about identifying weakness in a very specific way, articulating them, and helping the writer to see them, and to sort out how to go about fixing them.
- Use Catmull’s criteria for giving good notes—and I mean literally . Make each note follow his format, and don’t allow any other commentary. That means never saying, “Ohh, what if your character is from another planet instead?” or “I think you should start at Chapter 5,” or “You’re the best writer, I’m so jealous, I wish I could write like you.”
- Hone your story analysis skills by learning the craft of self-editing —I highly recommend The Artful Edit by Susan Bell (principles of editing), Handling the Truth by Beth Kephart (the critical importance of truth in memoir) and Wired for Story by Lisa Cron (how to write fiction designed to give the reader what the brain craves.) Read these books in your writing group and discuss them and evaluate your own work according to their principles. This will be a powerful learning tool. You may also like my guide, How to Edit A Complete Manuscript . It teaches you how to put down your writer’s hat and put on an editing hat.
3. Struggling writers are not often the best judges of struggling writing, Part 2.
This point is so important that I’m making it again, in a different way.
Let’s assume that neither you nor your writing group members can hone their story analysis skills overnight. This is, in fact, often the reality. Many writers think they understand story and narrative because they love to read, and they are great readers, and they recognize a great story when it’s on the page. But that is very different from knowing how a dramatic narrative (for fiction) or a narrative argument (for non fiction) is constructed, or knowing how to get the emotion on the page, or knowing how to hold the readers’ expectation in your mind as you write. These are very different skills. Some writers are native geniuses at it, but those people are very rare. Most writers are honing their story analysis and narrative design skills in terms of their own writing, not in terms of being able to articulate it to other writers.
So how can you help each other with your work? If the people in your group don’t have the knowledge and expertise to diagnose problems, don’t do it . Seriously. Don’t. Consider skipping the editorial analysis completely and make the group be about accountability, camaraderie, support, and information-sharing instead of about the words on the page.
- Give each writer time to talk about the weaknesses they see in their work and the solutions they are contemplating. Let them try to sort those things out in a supportive space. Often, simply having to articulate your problem goes a long way towards solving it. I find that writers frequently know what’s wrong with their own work if you give them the time and space to confront those truths, and this is far better than asking people who are not trained to weigh in on what’s wrong with the work.
- Give everyone half an hour to talk about the problems they are having making time to write —or the doubt they are feeling about the point of their story, or their lack of faith in their worthiness as a writer. These are experiences every human is indeed an expert on (managing time, facing doubt, being brave) and experiences that can be fundamental to writing success.
- Assign members research projects. Spend time sharing what you have read about changes in the industry, trends in pricing, what readers are doing and saying and thinking, and how writers are reaching readers. Look at newsletters such as The Hot Sheet about the business of writing, or at Shelf Awareness , about the business of bookselling. Identify useful writing blogs ( Save the Cat , Shawn Coyne ) and push yourself to include sites that focus on social media and entrepreneurial skills ( Alexis Grant , Joanna Penn , and Dan Blank ). All of this is just as important to being a successful writer than the words on the page. I do not believe that excellent writing can come from writers whose only goal is to sell, but I also believe that writers who ignore the realities of how books are bought and sold, and ignore the demands of their readers and their competitors, are writing with their heads in the sand. Publishing success is often deemed to be mostly a matter of luck and timing—and while luck and timing certainly play a role, knowledge about the demands of readers and the realities of publishing is almost always a factor, as well.
- Save up your pennies to find an actual expert to help you with the words on the page. This could be an online group workshop from somewhere like Gotham Writers Workshop , UCLA Extension Writer’s Program or Writer’s Digest ; a class at a nearby college; or hiring an editor or book coach. (Jane has a fabulous list of resources on her site here .)
4. Failure is not an option in a writer’s group, but failure is a part of the writing process.
Writing is a creative undertaking, and all creative undertakings are messy. Things sometimes get worse before they get better. Things can take a long time to come into focus, as you ping back and forth between what you thought you were doing and what you are actually doing, between the start of the story and the finish, between one narrative thread and another. Failure is part of the territory—a big part of it. Writing groups, however, tend to exclusively celebrate forward progress, and clean, linear thinking.
This happens because writing groups focus on only on one tiny slice of work at a time. If that slice happens to be logical, chronological, clear and well written, you get a thumbs up. Problems related to how that slice fits into the whole sweep of the story, or how it supports the premise, or how it aligns with the overall structure are largely ignored—and yet many of the most common problems I see are the result of flaws in these areas. When seen through a micro lens, a chapter can be beautiful and moving and polished yet be an utter failure at doing what it needs to do on a macro level—which is to drive the story or the argument forward towards a clear and resonant resolution.
Some of the best passages in Catmull’s book chronicle the early, messy stages of beloved stories like Toy Story . Can you imagine Woody ever being a character who was fuzzy and unformed? He was, and as you can imagine, that impacted every element of the story. The writers and producers wrestled with his character for a long time before hitting on the slightly neurotic little toy cowboy who adores his owner Andy and is nervous about the newcomer, Buzz. Catmull’s point in letting us inside Woody’s transformation is to show us that the creative process is never linear and straightforward, and that you must make room for failure:
Pixar films are not good at first, and our job is to make them so—to go, as I say, “from suck to not-suck.” This idea—that all movies we now think of as brilliant were, at one time, terrible—is a hard concept for many to grasp. … Creativity has to start somewhere, and we are true believers in the power of bracing, candid feedback and the iterative process—reworking, reworking, and reworking again, until a flawed story finds its throughline or a hollow character finds its soul.
Try the following fixes for your writing group—which are all reiterations of the points we’ve outlined, above.
- Tell the truth. If someone is not working—if it has a fatal flaw, if it’s ill conceived, if it has an underlying problem of logic—say so, in as specific way as possible. Don’t hold back for the sake of being nice. Nice is saving a writer from years of writing in the wrong direction.
- Be open to criticism. If you get deep criticism on something you have written, consider that you might need to scratch it, start again, go back to Go. Allow that reality a place at the table. Many writers say that they know something is working when they start throwing out a lot of pages. They can see their vision clearly—and they can see what doesn’t fit.
- Give good notes—and ask for them. Encourage the members of your group to ask for the help they think they need. Rather than reading a passage of text and waiting for generic feedback, urge the writer to say, “I’m having trouble with the passage where I explain my system for writing a resume. I’d like you guys to listen to see what I am missing.” This is, in effect, asking for a “good note.”
- Talk about the failure. Talk about the doubt and the agony of it all. Let the pain be part of the mix, because creating something out of nothing is not easy. It’s highly emotional work, no matter what the genre. Writers need support—real support, not just surface level support—and they need a place where they can fail. Let your writing group be that place, and you will be providing an invaluable service.
Jennie Nash is an author and book coach, and the Chief Creative Officer of Author Accelerator . Sign up for her weekly coaching lessons at JennieNash.com.
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Writing Group Starter Kit
You’ve decided to form a writing group. Congratulations! The Writing Center has established this kit to help writers like you get a group going and help it succeed, right from the start.
Starting a writing group, especially your first one, can be a little overwhelming. To help your group get off on the right foot, we’ve put together this collection of handouts for your group members to fill out before the first meeting. These will help you break the ice, learn about each other’s writing needs and group interactions, and start to plan a structure and schedule for your group that will work for everyone.
- Deciding How the Group Will Function
- Personal Goals Worksheet
- Writing Inventory Worksheet
- About My Writing Sample Worksheet
- Group Work Inventory
- Schedule Inventory
Before the first meeting, everyone should read the handouts above and prepare to discuss their answers. They should also share a short writing sample (an excerpt from a paper would be fine). Of course, your group can modify this starter kit by adding other questions you would like each person to answer beforehand or subtracting worksheets that you don’t think will help you.
In your first meeting, your group might start by talking about why each of you wanted to join a writing group (using the Personal Goals sheet), then move on to discussing yourselves as writers (using your Writing Inventory and sharing your writing samples and the “About this Writing Sample” sheets). Finally, you might discuss your preferences for working together (using the Group Work inventory) and figure out a good time and place to meet (using the Schedule Inventory). All of these conversations can help you set some ground rules for your group, which you may want to write down, and will help you get to know one another as writers and group members. You might develop your own writing group “creed” at your first meeting to set the tone for future sessions.
It may be a good idea to close your first meeting by scheduling the next meeting and setting an agenda for it. Groups usually get off to a good start when the first meeting sets most of the ground rules, at least tentatively, and then subsequent meetings get right down to talking about and working on writing. By setting an agenda for the next meeting (who will bring writing, what you will work on, etc.), you can be sure that your group will start helping one another with writing issues almost immediately, and you can all leave the first meeting knowing what you should do between then and the next session.
University of Rochester
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- Current students
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Arts, Sciences & Engineering
Writing, Speaking, and Argument Program
- Writing Groups
About Writing Groups
Writing groups provide distraction-free time and space for writing. Dedicated to writing, they help writers establish and meet short- and long-term writing goals. Writing group members typically set their own schedules, and each group member sets their own writing goals.
Unlike other models of writing groups that focus on reader feedback, Writing, Speaking, and Argument Program writing groups bring members together to set and share goals and to write. Any group can request a visit from a Writing Consultant, who can help the group with goal-setting and address key questions or challenges faced by the group.
Successful groups tend to range anywhere from three to five members and meet consistently over a single semester. For many writers, writing groups provide:
- The support and accountability to complete projects,
- increased motivation, and
- new strategies that improve the writing process and foster a better relationship to writing.
Join a Group
- Undergraduate Groups
- Graduate/Post-Doc Groups
- Faculty Groups
Questions? Suggestions? Email the Writing Group Coordinator, Liz Tinelli ( [email protected] ).
Writing Group Materials
Feel free to use these materials in your writing group!
- Writing Group Guidelines
- Writing Group "Ground Rules" Worksheet
- Personal Goals Worksheet
- Setting SMART Writing Goals handout
- Writing Goals Calendar (weekly)
Setting up a writing group.
The purpose of a writing group is to provide mutual support in order to increase the quality and quantity of its members’ writing, as well as to make the writing process more enjoyable. Research shows that all types of writing groups can lead to success but which one is right for you? If you and your colleagues are interested in setting up a writing group, consider the following questions:
- How many members will be in the group? Which disciplines will they be drawn from? How will you recruit them?
- Will you have a leader initially or later in the process? Will the leader rotate or be static? Will you invite writing or subject experts to guide you in the process?
- How will you meet? Will it be face-to-face or remotely using technology? When will you meet? Where will you meet? Will it be on campus or away from campus? How often will you meet? How long will you meet for?
- What types of activities will you do during meetings? Options include: goal-setting; writing (including freewriting, prompted writing, and self-directed writing); reading each others’ writing; offering feedback and responses to each others’ writing; discussing writing and/or feedback.
- What will you do between meetings? Will you write? Will you read and respond to each others’ writing?
These questions are adapted from Sarah Haas, “Pick-n-Mix: A typology of writers’ groups in use,” Writing Groups for Doctoral Education and Beyond: Innovations in Practice and Theory , ed. Claire Aitchison and Cally Guerin (Routledge, 2014).
The following resource may also be helpful as you decide upon a writing group formation that will best suit your needs: Kerry Ann Rockquemore, “Shut Up and Write” from Inside Higher Ed (2010)
Interested parties can also contact the Coordinator for Graduate Writing Support at [email protected] for further guidance.
Should you join a writing group? Understanding the pros and cons
Posted on September 21, 2021 at 1:10 PM by Guest Author
If you’re looking to develop your writing skills, you may want to join a writing group. Learn what to expect from meeting up with fellow authors regularly.
Table of Contents
What Is a Writing Group?
Reasons to Join a Writing Group
Pros of Joining a Writing Group
Cons of Joining a Writing Group
What is a writing group .
Are you struggling to decide whether you should join a writing group? In that case, you’re probably already familiar with the concept. But to avoid any potential confusion, it’s still worth outlining what a writing group is.
Simply put, a writing group is a gathering of people who are passionate about the craft of writing and meet up regularly — either in person or online — to hone their skills.
You should note that no two writing groups are the same. They often differ in purpose, format, and overall approach.
For example, one group may be more informal and focused on simply giving members a place to discuss writing; another might have a strict schedule and exist to critique members’ work.
Although authors debate the value of writing groups, many consider these communities essential, especially at specific points in the writing journey.
Let’s look at why...
Reasons to Join a Writing Group
Writing groups offer various benefits, which we’ll touch on in the next section. However, there are usually three main reasons to join a writing group:
1. You’re in search of support and socialization.
If you’re looking to break out of your bubble, joining a writing group may be the perfect solution.
Writing is, by nature, a very solitary activity. Unlike other jobs that allow you to socialize with coworkers, being an author means you’re usually on your own.
But participating in a group gives you the opportunity to interact with others, experience a sense of community, and gain emotional support.
2. You’re struggling with accountability.
You may decide to join a writing group if you’re having a tough time holding yourself accountable.
When writing in isolation, staying motivated can be a challenge. You’re at a greater risk of letting self-imposed deadlines pass by you.
However, taking part in a writing group can give you some much-needed structure, especially if you’re expected to share what you’ve written so far or update the group on your progress.
3. You need feedback on your writing.
Finally, a major reason to join a writing group is that you need unbiased feedback on your writing.
When working on a new project, you’re often too close to view it objectively. And getting loved ones to read your work in progress isn’t always the best approach, as they may worry about hurting your feelings.
But having a group of fellow authors to share with can give you some much-needed insight into areas of weakness.
Pros of Joining a Writing Group
If you’re still on the fence about whether you should join a writing group, you may want to learn a little more about the benefits. After all, it helps to know what you have to gain.
With that said, here are some of the pros of joining a writing group:
It’s a cost-effective way to strengthen your skills.
If you’re starting your writing career , you need to invest in your craft. But chances are you still have a budget in place.
In that case, you’ll be pleased to learn that joining a writing group is often an affordable method of developing your writing skills. Typically, groups are free to join — or, at most, require a modest membership fee.
And in the process of participating, you’ll receive invaluable feedback, education, and encouragement that will help you become a better writer.
It often aids in overcoming writer’s block.
Another advantage of being part of a writing group is that it can help you overcome writer’s block.
Although there are many reasons you may experience a creative slowdown, engaging with your group members can typically resolve the core issue.
Meeting with fellow authors can give you a much-needed energy boost, provide you with fresh insight, and help broaden your horizons.
You can get tips on the business side of writing.
If you want to become a career author , you don’t just need natural talent and sharp writing skills — you also need business savvy. Fortunately, that’s something you can work on when you join a writing group consisting of members at varying levels.
Those who have more experience can provide you with tips on publishing, marketing, networking, and more that will serve you in your career.
It can help you rediscover your love of writing.
Often writing can begin to feel like a chore, especially if you’re working toward finishing a book . But when you join a writing group, you’re able to find joy in writing again.
After all, enthusiasm spreads. Meeting regularly with others, sharing in their triumphs, and getting encouragement can go a long way in transforming writing back into a fun activity.
It gives you a pool of potential beta readers.
One of the benefits of signing up for a writing group that often goes overlooked is that it can help with finding beta readers .
For starters, those in your group are likely readers on top of writers. Further, being in a group with them means that by the time you’ve finished your first draft, you’ll know whether you can trust their judgment and feedback.
Of course, not everyone in your group will be up to the task (all you can do is ask), but it gives you a great place to start looking.
To make an informed decision about whether to join a writing group, you need to consider both sides. Although there are plenty of benefits to look forward to, there are some drawbacks as well.
Here are some cons to keep in mind:
Not all the advice you receive will be helpful.
Giving feedback is a skill that needs to be developed. This means that you can’t expect all the advice you receive to be good, especially if a group is in its early stages.
Some members may not understand the concept of “constructive criticism,” whereas others may deliver vague advice.
Additionally, the feedback you get from those at or below your experience level may not be as helpful as input from those who have been writing longer.
There may be some personality clashes.
A writing group is like any other community based on a shared interest — it’s filled with passionate people who have their own opinions and egos. Because of this, there may be some personality clashes that result in arguments and hurt feelings.
Before you join a writing group, you need to think about how you would handle negative comments or pushback from other members.
It requires a time commitment, just like any other activity.
When you join a writing group (and truly participate), you must dedicate a fair amount of time to it.
And it’s not just the meetings themselves; it’s also the time spent keeping up with communications, preparing for each session, and traveling to the meeting place (if the group gathers in person).
Depending on your schedule, this may prove hard to manage.
It’s not uncommon to stray off course without leadership.
It can be tough to stay on track if a writing group doesn’t have an official leader (or even an unofficial one).
Without someone in charge who’s committed to providing a productive, nurturing environment, the group can fall into chaos.
At best, the group can become disorganized. At worst, it can become toxic.
Sometimes you’ll want to break the format.
Depending on the type of group you join, you may find yourself stuck to a format that doesn’t always work for you.
For example, you may want to share a recent chapter you’ve written during a session when you’re scheduled to do writing exercises.
If there’s no flexibility in activities, you might not get the most out of the group.
There are many reasons to join a writing group, especially if your goal is to become a published author. But when it comes down to it, you need to consider what’s best for you, analyzing the pros and cons.
Hopefully, the information provided here will help you decide on the best course of action.
And remember, if you decide to join a writing group, it’s important to look for one that fits your needs (and avoid groups that do more harm than good ).
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How to Run a Writing Group: A Proven System to Keep Feedback Positive and Helpful
Are you tired of going it alone as a writer? Joining or starting a writing group is a wonderful way to build community and improve your writing skills.
But beware. For every good experience of participating in a writing group, there are ten horror stories. Too many times unclear goals, personal egos, and loose structure lead to hurt feelings, unproductive meetings, and breakdowns in relationships.
Worst of all, it doesn’t actually improve your writing!
In this article you will learn the systems we use in our Guild Editor Mentorship program to keep the writing feedback positive and helpful so it enables writers to reach their goals.
What are the Benefits of a Writing Group?
Why bother with a writing group? It’s a hassle to find meeting times, share your writing, and deal with other introvert’s personalities when we would all rather be curled up at home with a good book.
However, we at Story Grid think it’s worth the effort.
There are three main benefits to participating in a writing group.
1. Makes the Writing Process More Enjoyable
Writing is a lonely process. It requires you to sit alone in front of a keyboard tapping away.
This loneliness often leads us to focus on the negative. We often get stuck spiraling in our head, frustrated with both the process and the results.
By meeting regularly with a group of other writers, we often get a truer sense of our place and progress. We have others cheering on our wins, mourning our losses, and reminding us of our progress along the way.
Non-writers do not understand what it means to pursue the art of writing. By regularly meeting with other writers, it eases our loneliness and reminds us why we pursue this noble goal.
2. Creates Accountability
We’ve all been there.
We miss a day of writing. Then two. Then a week. Then we turn around and realize it’s been five months since we’ve written anything more than an email or tweet.
By committing to a writing group, we stay engaged so we can turn in our work before each meeting. Additionally, the added pressure of regularly sharing our work with peers will keep us sharp and pursuing excellence.
3. Improves Writing Skills
Adding outside perspectives to our writing allows us to get helpful feedback (if it’s done correctly—more on this below) that we could not generate on our own.
This type of group workshopping will unlock ideas we didn’t know we had. Often, it won’t be any exact idea that someone shared, rather, their ideas will spark our own creativity.
These types of communities increase our creativity and drive us to stay engaged with the work.
The Rules for a Writing Group
In order for a writing group to stay helpful and positive, we have found it’s important to establish a set of rules for all participants to agree to and follow.
Rule 0: Abide by the Basics
These are the obvious bits.
Show up to meetings on time or communicate in advance if you are unable to attend. Share your drafts in the agreed format. Check the ego at the door. If you find yourself getting defensive or upset, take a break to calm down before reengaging.
Focus on making the experience positive for all involved.
Rule 1: Choose a Common Curriculum
Choose a book, topic, or training to work through together. We, of course, recommend the Story Grid Guild training.
This provides a common structure and goal for our work together in the group. Each week we are focused on a particular skill set. Perhaps it’s dialogue or fight scenes or context description.
By focusing on a common curriculum, we tend to offer and receive feedback that is clear and focused instead of random..
Rule 2: Focus on the Iterative Practice of Skills and Concepts over Finishing a Work-in-Progress
If all of the participants are submitting their work-in-progress for feedback, it causes two main problems:
- The writer is emotionally attached to the work because they are working towards a final publishable piece. Instead, by working on small bits focused on the concepts from the common curriculum, it is much easier to cut, rewrite, and throw way.
- All the participants are at different places in their story. This makes it impossible to focus on a common concept or skill.
Instead, each week write or edit drafts that are created for the sole purpose of practicing the current concept or skill and getting feedback from the group. This will allow us to let go of attachment to our writing and be quick to accept and apply feedback.
The goal of the writing group is skill acquisition and leveling up our writing instead of finishing a work-in-progress.
Rule 3: Meet Weekly
Scheduling a week between meetings allows for time to study and practice the concepts and skills while not letting too much time pass before getting feedback.
Here is how the weekly meetings should be run.
- Have one person review the topic from the previous week and the goals for the week’s practice writing.
- Each person gets a set amount of time (5-10 minutes depending on the number of participants) to receive feedback from the group on their writing sample. Feedback should follow the guidelines for HOW TO GIVE GOOD FEEDBACK .
In our Guild Editor Mentorship program, since each writer gets one-on-one feedback with their Editor Mentor each week, we spend the group time deep diving into one participant’s iteration for the week. This allows us to dig deep and learn more as a group.
- Once all the feedback has been given, move to the topic for the week.
- Discuss the topic until there is common understanding. Talk about what isn’t clear and try to build a shared understanding of the concepts and goals before moving forward.
- Each writer should identify which aspects of the concept are most interesting and exciting to them. Every participant should share specific skills they are looking to improve in their writing.
- Harvest the meaning from the discussion and set an intention on how each person will practice the concepts in their writing over the coming week.
Start Your Own Writing Group
When done correctly, a writing group can be a source of great support for you as a writer while also helping you develop new skills to level up your ability.
Gather three to five people together and start meeting weekly and working together toward your common goal.
Join the Guild Editor Mentorship
Writing feedback and weekly groups are a huge part of the Guild Editor Mentorship Program. Here’s what are current students have to say:
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Level Up Your Craft Newsletter
The Writing Cooperative
Jul 9, 2020
Writing Groups Can Be Essential
Why you need them, where to find them, and how to fix problems.
I’ve written before on how writing can help you connect with others. But one specific connection, writing groups, can be especially useful to your writing. Writing groups can give you feedback and hopefully improve your writing while providing a social outlet. Knowing the types, why you need them, where to find them, what to look for, and what pitfalls to avoid can get you on the right track.
There are four main types of writing groups, some more serious about writing than others. Knowing which group you’re getting into ahead of time can save you a lot of heartache. Groups include those for social support, for practice, for accountability, and for critique. They each have their pros and cons and often groups will be a mixture of the above.
Some groups don’t want to get into the whole writing process with other people, but do want to grow a community of people where they can ask questions, commiserate, and otherwise be social. These groups can be informal groups of friends or more formal groups. The upside is that you get people to talk to about writing and concerns. The downside is that unless you happen to find a beta reader among the group, you’re not going to get much editing help out of these groups.
Finding groups on the internet can be especially easy. The number of groups on the internet abound including those on social media. The #writingcommunity on Twitter is a very large informal social writing group. A group for writers harboring self doubts can be found at Insecure Writer’s Support Group . Take a look and see what you find.
Practice groups are more serious groups that focus on practicing writing. The goal is to meet up and to spend a select amount of time writing, sometimes with the aid of a prompt or other assignment, sometimes on your own work depending on the group. There may or may not be time to share and talk about the results at the end of the session. They’re also going to be low on editing help.Generally you’re most likely to find these groups offline which is a downside, but Meetup is a good source.
As it sounds like, accountability groups are designed to keep members accountable to continue their projects between meetings. In some groups works are shared at meetings. In others, reports are given on how much progress has been made and other discussion about writing is done afterwards. These groups are more versatile as they are better suited for being online than practice groups and they don’t need as much organization.
Critique groups are perhaps the groups most commonly thought about when people hear ‘writing groups’. In these groups, people bring a work to the meeting to be read at the meeting (or read ahead of time) and then each work is critiqued by the members while the author listens and takes notes. The author is allowed to clarify afterwards, but not argue back. With time, the members of these groups can develop a camaraderie. The biggest difficulty is finding a group that has a good balance of people that give good criticism without being ruse. These groups can be found both online and off.
Why you should find a group
The first thing you want to know about writing groups is why they matter. What can a writing group do for you specifically? There are multiple types of writing groups out there, but they all offer some or all of the following benefits:
One of the biggest reasons people want to join a writing group is for the socialization. Groups give writers a chance to connect with other writers and to talk about their craft. They also offer the opportunity to make friends and talk about other things beyond writing as well. Beta readers can often be found this way as well.
Find personal beta readers
Depending on the type of writing group you end up in, you’ll get more or less help within the group for ideas for how to edit your story. As mentioned above, the nice thing about groups is that the socialization element means that hopefully you’ll make close connections and within those connections find people willing to be beta readers. If you’re lucky, you may find multiple people willing to fill different beta reader roles . Don’t go into groups hoping to poach people, but keep your eyes out.
Whenever you bring in a group of people, there’s bound to be different experiences and ideas. This goes the same for writers. Depending on the group make up, your group may be full of people of the same genre and general style or, more likely, have people working on more diverse works. Although you may never write a Western novel, you may learn something from learning to critique works from the genre. You may also learn new writing techniques and styles. Go in with an open mind.
All groups should be offering encouragement of some type or another. The encouragement may be different depending on the group (a socialization group may be more generally encouraging, while an accountability group’s encouragement may be more geared to pushing you to stay on track), but if you’re not getting a good feeling and hopefully a boost of confidence from your group, then it may not be the group for you.
Keep you on track
Some types of groups are better at helping you keep on track than others, but for the right groups they can be great at making you move forward and progressing with your work. When you’re in one of these groups, definitely take advantage of the encouragement to stay on track. There’s nothing like having outside motivation sometimes to help keep you going when you want to procrastinate.
Motivate you to improve
At the same time, not every group is designed to specifically work on improving your work, but almost all groups have the goal of encouraging you to improve whether it be your manuscript or your skills. In more specific groups, you work together to improve your works and your skills so take advantage of those groups when you can.
Writing groups can be a great place to meet people who know things about the writing world that you don’t know as much about. Unless you’re in a completely amateur group, there’s likely to be one or more people who has more insight into a wide range of subjects ranging from writing subjects such as how to write a theme to grammar, to publishing, business, and marketing side of the writing process at varying levels. Some groups may even give assignments to help members learn more.Keep your ear out for chances to ask for more information.
Most groups are free, so with the groups that focus on critiquing, you’re basically getting free basic editing to an extent. This is similar to low level beta reading and won’t get you proof reading for mistakes and grammar, but it will give you and idea for how the piece flows, what people think of a character, etc. You won’t get the same results of a professional editor, but it can be a stop between your editing and professional editing.
What’s the point of being in a writing group if you don’t have at least some fun? There’s nothing wrong with being in a serious group that wants to focus on the writing and critiquing process, but if you’re not enjoying yourself you’re not going to stay long. Don’t neglect this part when joining the group.
Where to find writing groups
This year threw things off some, but generally there conferences all over the place and throughout the year. They may have links and advertisements for writing groups, both online and local. The downside, is that conferences can be pricey, but on the other hand you can get a lot of good information from the conference itself and you should take advantage of all the opportunities given to you.
Writing associations can be a good place to look for writer’s groups. These can link you to like minded people. Writer’s Relief has a long list of associations by area and type of genre to look through.
Meetup.com is one of the best known online sources for finding local groups. You’ll want to make sure you understand what kind of group is being advertised and the rules and expectations before you show up at the group. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a group that is in a similar genre to yours or at least a mixed group. If your options are limited, find out whether it’s okay to give the group a try even though you write in a different genre.
Word of mouth
Word of mouth, either direct, or looking at places like Starbucks or library message boards is a harder option, but can be done. Look for chances around you and jump on them if they appear.
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and Camp NaNoWriMo is a challenge to complete an entire project in a whole month. The former is specific to novels and occurs in November. In the Camp version, in April and July you’re encouraged to work on any project. Not only do NaNo and Camp give you motivation on their own to finish your work, these yearly projects have spawned many different in-person writing groups.
Online critique websites
There are plenty of places out there for getting critiques on websites. Critique Circle is a set of message boards where after joining you can post your stories for critique. In exchange, you have to critique other people’s works.
If you’re willing to shell out about a small amount of money a month, you can join The Next Big Writer . There you can get critiques from all over the world, including professional feedback.
Social media is ubiquitous at this point, so of course there are plenty of places on these websites to look for writing groups of all types, genres, and locations. Just a quick search on Facebook will likely bring up a ton of potential options both online and offline. Twitter can connect you to informal communities. Even Reddit is a good option as it has subreddits for just about any genre available. Keep in mind that the groups you find at any of these places will vary in quality.
What to look for
Decide whether you want in-person or online.
If you have time and access to a good in-person writing group, going in-person versus an online group is probably the better option. In-person groups can be more serious and it’s easier to have a tighter nit group when people meet face-to-face than in a large group on Facebook. People meeting in real life may be more serious is that they’re more accountable to a place and time.
On the other hand, plenty of people make social connections online, so being in-person isn’t entirely a necessity. Being an offline group isn’t always a guarantee of how serious a group is, either. So if you’re more time restricted or you don’t have a group in your area, an online group might be an option.
Similar genres (or not)
When you’re looking for a group, look for one that is based in your genre or something similar, or a mixed group that at least someone else who writes within your genre. You’re going to want feedback from people who understand the type of writing you’re doing and who are more likely to be interested in what you’re writing. That said, sometimes having the input from someone with an entirely different take can be helpful and you may learn from them as well.
You want a good sized group. Too small and you risk not enough people to get work done as people can’t always come to the groups due to life obligations or you don’t get enough feedback. Too large and the group gets too unwieldy and people get lost in the shuffle. You probably want to look for a group of at least 4 and no more than 8–10 people for an in-person group. Online groups can vary a lot wider and aren’t as subject to the size requirement.
Above all, you want a good moderator. Someone needs to lead the writing group or it’ll just be a free for all. You need someone to handle the details like where and when to meet and how to admit new members. A good moderator should also set rules and expectations and be ready to enforce them, including being willing to ask members who continuously cause problems to leave.
Along with a good moderator, you need rules to keep order and expectations, especially for those not related just to socialization. Rules can include when and where the meetings are held, but also expectations on how things will be run and what stories are acceptable. They should also cover behavior.
A solid time schedule (that people stick to)
For an online group, people who are late or don’t show up can be annoying. For people who belong to an in-person group, people who are tardy or absent can make the difference between a functioning group and one or two people sitting around twiddling their thumbs. You also don’t want a group that leaves the time of meeting nebulous as you’ll find that no one can agree on meeting times. Find a group that has a firm meeting time and a moderator that sticks to it.
Prepared people (read other people’s work and work on their own)
For the same reason as above, people who are unprepared by not having read any assigned work ahead of time or not having their own work ready for reading can severely disrupt the group. If multiple people are routinely unprepared and your moderator isn’t fixing the problem, you might want to try another group.
The last thing you want when you come out of a writing group session is to feel worse than when you went in. When you go to a critiquing session, you should be open and expect that some people may say some things that you may disagree with or that may even be constructive but painful to take, but what you don’t want is a group where one or more people attacks your or says deliberately mean things about your writing. Look for a group that builds you up while helping you grow, not one that tears you down.
No group is without problems and writing groups are definitely not immune either. Problems can make or break your experience with a particular writing group, or even writing groups in general. Keep your eyes out for the pitfalls.
A moderator’s job during a meeting should be to keep things flowing and constructive. A good moderator can help a group run smoothly. A bad moderator can literally destroy a group.
The person in charge should be ready to jump in, not only to make sure that people attend and are prepared, but also to make sure that people behave properly. No one person should monopolize the group, whether the person currently giving the critique or the writer, and a moderator should be ready to jump in to tactfully cut the speaker off. There’s almost always someone who gets hung up on grammar or has some other pet peeve that they spend time on obsessively and it’s the moderator’s job to curtail that tendency. The moderator over all should keep the peace and keep things moving.
When you get a lot of people together you can run into a lot of different expectations of what a writing group is and what they want to get out of it, even when the group is defined ahead of time. You might get to a group hoping to get some serious help with your writing but find out that the group is more interested in socializing. You may also find that another group offers techniques for editing that you don’t find helpful. Look for a group that matches your expectations or be ready to adjust.
Similar to above, groups work at different paces. Some people want to meet once a month and go through larger pieces. Some groups want to look at smaller pieces in shorter intervals. If you’re a slower writer, a group that wants to meet every week or two may not be a good fit. Be realistic about what pace you can keep up with and make sure it matches with the group.
While you want a group to encourage you to stay on track and keep writing, sometimes members can go overboard and pressure you to write faster or to keep writing something you no longer want to write. Or they may have a different style that they like and want you to follow even though it’s a bad fit for your work. Stick to what works for you and if people pressuring you is a problem and the moderator isn’t helping, move on.
Lack of candor
A big problem that people in groups can have is wanting to tell everyone else how great ofwriters they are and never give back good feedback. No one is a perfect writer. Everyone has something that can be worked on or improved. A group that is primarily made up of people who won’t tell you what needs fixing or changing is useless. Everyone needs to be willing to be tactful, but honest. Even if that means letting a writer know that their piece just isn’t working.
Criticism rather than being constructive
On the other side of the spectrum you may have people who have a tendency to tear apart other people’s works unnecessarily. The feedback they give, rather than being helpful, is just hurtful. Constructive criticism can help you improve your work and your writing skills. Unnecessary rudeness will just make you doubt your abilities. Don’t stay in a group that makes you feel worse with mean feedback.
Lack of experience
Writers come in all experience levels and all have strengths and weaknesses. The problem with inexperienced writers and those in critique groups is that they may not be able to offer you as good of feedback. Everyone has to start somewhere, but if your group is full of all beginners, the group’s help will be limited. Ideally, there will be people of higher experience as well. Even better would be if everyone is willing to work toward improving their own abilities to give feedback, perhaps through studying books.
Editing in the bubble
One issue you can run into while working with a writing group is that the group only ever sees the small part of work you offer at each meeting. They’re not going to see the story as a whole. Individual sections might be tweaked until they’re better, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll come together coherently and with everything you need to make a proper story. Here is where finding those beta readers and giving them specific goals to go through your story can help.
Clash of personalities
There’s no getting around that people are people and the more people you have, the more chances there are that there will be personality clashes. These can include between other members or between yourself and another member. Ideally everyone can be civil and work with each other. Sometimes the moderator needs to step in. But sometimes you have to make the hard decision to walk away.
Writing groups have their pros and their cons, but can be a great way to improve your writing and gain friends if you find a good writing group. You may have to try a couple of different groups first, but hopefully by knowing the types, why you need them, where to find them, and what to look for, and what pitfalls to avoid can give you a better chance at finding that right group.
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