Writing is lonely work. Its long hours spent writing, researching, editing, building craft and questioning yourself. Is the plot good? Can people relate to this character? Did I use that word right? Does this story suck? When the work isn’t going well and the questions start building up in your mind, you can find yourself sinking in a spiral of self-doubt and frustration. It’s a destructive state of mind that can make it impossible to write and getting out of it alone can be challenging. Finding like-minded people to talk to and spend time around can be the key to keeping yourself sane as an author.
But where do you find these like-minded people?
A writing group of course and in these days of social media and endless online resources finding a writing group is the easy part. The problem comes when you realize not all writing groups are created equal. In fact, many writing groups aren’t actually writing groups at all. There are many different types of groups that claim that title.
PROS: These groups are handy for writers who don’t have their own band of beta readers cultivated. They can also be useful simply to get the input of other writers, which is often a little different from the input you get from readers who don’t write. A good critique group can help you make your story great.
CONS: Can be sabotaged by writers only interested in getting feedback on their own work who don’t really care enough to give good feedback on anyone else’s work. Feedback also needs to be considered carefully. Not all writers in these groups are going to have the same skill level, genre, or understanding of different styles. Those variables need to be taken into account when determining what feedback is and isn’t worthwhile.
PROS: These groups can be great for any author looking to develop their skill. Some groups may discuss writing samples and even bring in guest speakers to discuss different aspects of the writing process. This can be a great way to improve your overall writing ability and the quality of your work.
CONS: Like with critique groups, the skill, genre, and styles of the attendees and speakers will vary. It’s important to take everything you learn and apply it only as appropriate to your work. Every author is a little different and that’s part of what makes books interesting.
PROS: This group isn’t about writing or improving craft, it’s about sanity. We all need support in our writing. Sometimes, even when they support us, our loved ones and friends just don’t completely get what we go through as writers. That’s where a group like this is extremely useful.
CONS: Like with the critique group, self-focused individuals who really aren’t interested in anything but their own struggles can sabotage this well-meaning group. It’s important to find a balanced group that is willing to support one another. This group can also degrade quickly to random social chatter, but that isn’t necessarily bad. It's a social group after all.
PROS: Writing for a predetermined amount of time outside of your normal environment can be a great way to get the creative juices flowing. There is also something about being around others who are writing that forces you to focus on your work because, at the very least, you feel guilty interrupting them. A good writing group is really a great way to get a lot of writing done.
CONS: Some writers don’t actually feel guilty about interrupting you. It can be hard to focus if some of the people begin to engage in social chatter while you’re trying to write. A disciplined writing group can be hard to find.
Many groups may combine elements. For me, the dedicated writing group is the most useful. I can learn craft on my own time and I’m fortunate to have a great selection of beta readers vetting my work. I get a ton of writing done when I go somewhere else and sit down to work with other dedicated writers doing the same thing. We set an amount of time to work and, when that time is up, we go have our social group at the pub.
The phrase ‘writing group’ can be a big misnomer. The important thing is to figure out what kind of group you need and try out some different ones. Don’t feel guilty about dropping out if a group isn’t meeting your needs. Somewhere there will be one that does and, if you can’t find it, gather some people and build your own. With all the social media, it’s easier than ever to find like-minded folks.
Now back to my crazy awesome work in progress! Happy writing!