A supportive and insightful group can help you become a better writer and put you on the path to getting published.
But a disorganized group can squelch your enthusiasm to write and leave you feeling confused.
To stop the writing group headaches before they began, follow these crucial tips.
1. Choose (or start) a group that specializes in your genre.
One of the biggest mistakes most writing groups make is embracing every form of writing you can think of: essays, screenplays, nonfiction, poetry, romance novels, you name it.
On the surface, it sounds like a golden idea. Very open and egalitarian. Everyone can contribute. It’s great, right?
In reality, not so much.
The problem is that when anyone can bring anything, the quality of feedback drops like a rock. Real insights are few and far between, because everyone ends up talking in generalities. No one is a specialist.
Here’s a better idea: team up with writers focused on writing the same kind of thing you write. If you write romance, find a group of romance writers. If you write mystery, find a group of mystery writers.
You’ll get higher quality feedback in a group that’s focused on one genre. Other members will be better educated in current trends, best-selling works, and established conventions in your genre. And that will help you become a better writer.
2. Look for a small, consistent group of people.
Over the years, I’ve attended (and organized) critique groups so big that literally dozens of people showed up every week. That can quickly turn chaotic. To stay productive, we had to break into smaller groups of three to six people per table every session.
No matter how big or small your writing group is, the trick is to sit with the same people in every meeting. If your membership changes too often, or some people show up only occasionally, it’s tough to keep everyone current on your story so far. Consistency is key.
3. Meet in a quiet, comfortable place.
According to my highly unscientific survey, at least 60% of all critique groups meet at a busy Starbucks. Although that affords various delicious opportunities, it can mean too many distractions. Too many crowds. Too much hustle and bustle.
If you want to give thoughtful feedback to the other members of your writing group, you need the space to think clearly and deeply about the stories in front of you. For that reason, the best place to meet is somewhere quiet and relaxed, like a library meeting room or a bookstore.
Maybe a coffee shop, if it’s quiet. But at least make sure it has donuts.
4. Never bring the same scene twice.
Perfect is the enemy of done.
There’s no such thing as a perfect book, a perfect chapter, or even a perfect sentence. After a certain number of revisions, your story doesn’t become any better – it just becomes different.
Too many aspiring writers fall into the trap of bringing the same pages back to the group, time after time. Their intentions are pure: fix this chapter first, before moving on.
But the problem is that this chapter will never be perfect. The group will always find something else wrong with those pages. You can’t blame them. That’s their job. So the hapless writer ends up rehashing the same chapter ad infinitum.
What should you do instead? Establish a “once and done” rule. Bring a scene once, and then move on to the next one. The key is to keep moving forward. Successful writing groups are fueled by new material.
5. Bring pages to every meeting.
One of the biggest benefits of any writing group is that it can encourage you to keep writing consistently. Writing on a regular schedule is the best way to finish your novel.
In successful critique groups, everyone contributes. Sure, if you miss the occasional chapter, that’s life. People are busy. But if you’re regularly coming to meetings empty-handed, you have to ask yourself why.
Are you a writer? Yes, you are. And writers write. So keep bringing new pages to every meeting.
Is your writing group solid? Or struggling?
A dependable writing group can encourage you to write better than ever before. It might even be the key to finishing your novel and getting published. To keep things running smoothly, establish some ground rules first, and you’ll build a writing group to provide you with support and insight for years to come.
What sorts of writing group problems have you struggled with?