Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Writer's Groups: Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?

I finally did it: I joined a writer's group. At least, I joined a group that's called a writer's group. I'm not sure how many people are even in the group, if they actually write or just want to write, and if they know anything at all about writing. When I introduced myself and said I had finished my first novel and was in the midst of my second and querying the first, I got some "ooohs" and "ahhhs" and something a kin to genuflecting. Which did not inspire enthusiasm on my part.

In all fairness, it's an internet group, because try as I might I cannot find any groups in my area. Apparently, no one here writes. Or they are all the likes of John Grisham and Patricia Cornwell and they don't need writer's groups. So all I was left with was to try the internet.

But this group is flexing in size, and I am quite sure I have yet to meet everyone. In the last month, only two people submitted work, one of which was me. At least one person has never written anything and writes with limited English. Only two to three people comment. And very vaguely, although I am thankful for anything.

This all just cements my previous views of writing groups: I don't think they are really for me. I have resisted for a long time. I took lots of writing classes in college. I was always the top writer, the most respected, the most honored, even in the grad level course I took as an undergrad. And this is not to say at all that I was great. It reflects mostly on the poor quality of writing of most of the others. What I learned most in these classes was that there are a lot of people who think they can write that can't.

I may be one of those people who think they can write but can't. Or maybe I am one of those people who can write, and write well, but not good enough. After all, if BookEnds receives 1200 queries a quarter and only signs on one client out of those, you have to be better than just the best in your class. Unless, of course, your class is 1200 students (and I had classes like that... just not writing classes!). But not respecting the abilities of your group members makes it hard to respect their advice - or their praise.

I had a few people I knew who read my last manuscript while it was in progress, but they knew me and liked me, and I could never be certain how honest and straight forward they were. And many, many blogs and writer sites tout the need for participation in a writer group, in a circle of people who aren't invested in you as a friend too much that they can't be honest. I resisted, still. I didn't need no stinking group. I could judge for myself. I could trust my friends.

Until I realized maybe an outside opinion wouldn't be bad after all, and might give me the chance to read some other really good WIPs and get to know other writers in the process like me, or better yet, a step or two ahead of me. I'm always looking for a little experience to draw on if it saves me from looking like a fool.

But now I am a member of a group that, from what I've seen so far, has much less experience than me. And frankly, that is a little scary. Not that I am one to be all taking and no giving, but I don't want to be the one who knows the most, because what I know about the publishing industry could be written on the head of a pin. Okay, maybe a big pin, but a pin nonetheless.

The other writing sample given for critique was so all over the place I had trouble even critiquing it. I sat for three days looking at the it, trying to figure out where to start. And I thought, this is sucking up my own time for writing...

So what about writer's out there? Do you belong to a group? Is it worth it? How did you choose it? What keeps you in it? What do you get out of it? If not, who reads your work?

Most of you whose blogs I follow mention people reading your work. How do you choose? How did you find them? And most of all, if you like them, can I join???


  1. Whew!

    I belong to two groups: one which is very official and has a membership fee. We have one formal meeting each month and three coffee shop meetings. Each month we try to have a topic or guest speaker, as well as a writing exercise. There's always time for us to read something if desired. The coffee shop meetings are usually where we trade work to read and do all of our writing related gabbing.

    Second group: two other writers. Both published with small presses or magazines. Neither of them felt right in the big group. We really do more intense critiquing of each other's work and so far, since September, it's gone very well. We don't have a set time to meet, but just call each other and say Hey, how bout? I respect and like both of them.

    The big group has a wide variety of writers. A couple are very good but don't really want to get publshed; they just write for the love of it. And that's okay. I think there could be some big disagreements but we're all very civil and reasonable. I look forward to my Monday nights. Some of these people have really been inspirational to me.

    What do I get out of it? Like minded conversation (just like my internet writer buddies) and some constructive criticism. I haven't always let the right people read my work. My friends will always like it because they like me. At first I didn't give it to anybody from my group because I was too shy. haha! Not anymore!

    When handing over your work, you have to trust that person. Emotionally and intellectually. You have to respect them. In that way I've usually chosen well.

    If you're not satisfied with the group, you can move on. Lots have. Good luck!

  2. Heidi, I have so had the same problem. I haev been trying to get a writer's group together here, and it's just not happening. I tried to do online groups before, and ... I really think you need to have the same amount of dedication from all members, the same goals...or you just muddle along.

    That being said, I would hit you up to be in my little online group I've set up. Only one other person, but I'm betting on a second, and then ... we might work out? What do you think?

  3. Heidi: Wow! You sound like you have the dream writer set-up! Are your groups really local? How did you find the big one? I finally located one about an hour from my house, but that's a big commitment because I have to have someone watch the kids for what I guess would be about three and a half hours, travel time included.

    I wish I knew people who write. It seems like there are a million on the internet, blogging and such, but I don't know anyone, and I'm not really sure how to find them.

    I think it's amazing you have such a strong support group, and are surrounded by other writers with a level of ability and commitment. That is a blessing!

  4. JKB (can I call you Jenn? I think I saw someone comment on your blog and call you that so I assumed it was your name!)

    I completely agree that it's hard to find a internet group with the same goals and dedication, and level of ability. It's hard to know how to define that when a faceless website asks for a name and password and then just randomly assigns you.

    I'd love to be part of you group! If everyone is writing fairly consistently you don't want it to be too big anyway, so small is good. I've actually considered asking you and Heidi to read a little of my work just to get a feel from other writers, even though I know you and I don't write in the same "genre".

    The group I'm in now is so anonymous that you can't get a list of who is in it, and I have no idea if anyone is running it. I'd be more than happy to take charge but I don't want to step on toes if there is someone who is adminning it. Or I'd start my own, but like I said, how to do that?

    But better yet is having a friend who is starting one and jumping on board!

  5. You know Heidi, I had thought of you and Heidi the Hick Queen as well. Ithink it would be awesome.

    My name is Jennifer but my friends call me Jen. You rate Jen. :)

    THis would be so cool. You have my email account. Heidi the Hick Queen, are you on board? But I totally agree with Heidi, you have some kind of ideal setup. :)

    Send me it and lets get going. I must admit to heavy interest in your newest story - did I happen to mention I'm Diabetes Type 2?? I can certainly get into your new one...I'm dying to read it. :)

  6. Jen,

    Okay... I am officially in. I'll send my first two chapters (which is not very many pages) in the next day or two, with the caveat that it is still rough.

    I'm so sorry to here you have diabetes. That really sucks!
    I warn you Babs is not very flattering to the type 2s. She is loud and a bit opinionated. I wrestled with this a little at the beginning because she is the anti-me. But in the end, I let her speak with her own voice and hope she ends up redeeming (which she is).

    I am so excited! Do I get to read some of the book you just finished?

  7. yeah okay, I'm in! This will be good to go along with my new book. I hope you two can handle the unpleasantness and still like me afterwards!

    I found my writers group, believe it or not, through an ad in the local paper. This was at the height of my anxiety problems but I forced myself to go and I'm so glad.

    Heidi have you considered starting one in your area? This town of mine is approx 40,000 and out of that I think 20 people are official members. It started in some guy's rec room but now we get a spot in the town hall.

    But yes, I have a great support system and I love it and I'm willing to get in on another! My email's on my profile!

  8. OMGoodness YAY!!!!!!!

    I am so fricking excited.

    I will email you both from my personal account.

  9. WooHoo!!!!!

    Let the Fantastically New Critique Group begin!

    I could hardly sleep last night, I was so excited!