This article was originally written as a guest post for the Charlotte Readers Podcast. Visit their blog for more literary reflections from a variety of writers!
There’s a stereotype that writers are solitary creatures whose only contact with the outside world is to gaze contemplatively out windows. I can confirm this from personal experience.
Yes, writing may be a solitary endeavor by nature, but there’s no reason you can’t turn it into a more social one. I belong to several writers’ groups, and they’re a crucial part of my life as a writer. These are just some of the benefits I get from them:
Many writers’ groups are critique-based, meaning the members read each others’ work and give constructive criticism. Getting notes from readers is absolutely necessary to me. When you’re writing something, you have a certain level of closeness to it, and another set of eyes can help you see your own blind spots.
While I use and value individual beta readers for notes, getting notes from a group can be particularly useful. Firstly, because you get a bunch of notes at once, so it’s more efficient. You can also look for consensus within people’s notes: if more than one reader is echoing the same thought, it’s definitely worth giving credence to. And getting to know your readers, through reading their work, and hearing them give feedback to others in the group, means that you’ll learn their tastes and feedback styles, which is useful for filtering their notes and knowing how to respond.
Giving notes in return isn’t just about giving back. It can also be helpful to your development as a writer. In reading analytically, and dissecting not just what you like or dislike, but why, and what could be done to improve a piece, you grow your own skill set.
Some writers’ groups write on prompts together and share their work. Others just bring their laptops and sit in silence together for an hour or two to write. These can offer a great space to generate new ideas, shake off the mental cobwebs, or to provide accountability and encourage you to get work done.
Networking and Camaraderie
Writing is one of those things that you just don’t fully get unless you do it. Having writer friends to bounce ideas off of, talk process with, and just gripe with when things aren’t going well is good for the soul. Plus, your fellow writers may be your biggest cheerleaders: the ones who buy your books and show up to your events, trumpet your work on social media, and vote for you in contests. They can also share valuable contacts and advice.
So I want to join a writers’ group… how?
Googling writers’ groups in your area is probably the simplest and most obvious way to look for groups to join. Meetup.com specifically lists writers’ groups across the country. I’ve found groups through libraries and local bookstores, so checking their websites or stopping by in person are also good ideas. And writers have a way of finding each other, so once you join one group, you may find yourself being introduced to others.
Or, if you’re feeling entrepreneurial, why not start your own group? You can advertise for members through the above channels. Think about what you want out of a group: feedback? A chance to free write? Social time? Educational programs, with speakers and activities?
For a critique group, you’ll need to consider group size: too few members, and you’re not getting a variety of notes. Too many, and it’s a struggle for everyone to have their say, or have opportunities to submit. It’s also important to decide on submission schedules, length or content limitations, and how meetings will be run.
And while gathering in person may not be an option right now, don’t let that deter you. Many groups have moved online, which has actually made it easier to find communities outside of your locale to engage with.
So break away now and then from the computer screen, the notebook page, or the window of contemplation. It’ll make you a better writer, and probably a happier one, too.