As a writer, the single best thing I’ve ever done for my writing is join a writers group. I can’t speak for all writers, but for me, having the steady deadline keeps me writing with a specific goal. The feedback of my group becomes the voices in my head when I write saying random gems like “‘it’ is a missed opportunity.” Reading other people’s raw work through a critique lens helps me see errors in my own. There are many benefits to joining a writers group, more than I can count.
But writers groups are very delicate things. They only work when everyone in them feels like they are getting just as much from the group as they put into it. Our group doesn’t have issues with one person slacking yet expecting a lot out of their critiques, our issues are more numbers based.
Too many people in a writers group can kill the group. Members get bogged down in submissions and the actual meetings last all night while the members say their piece. You can institute things like comment limits, and shorter word counts, but my group likes being thorough, we like round-tabling submissions, we like the freedom to interrupt each other with our opinion on “x” or clarification of what “y” is. So when we grew too large we put a cap on membership and started screening new members to make sure their genre was something we could critique (living in a university town we often had writers come through with academic papers and such).
We did such a good job that a little over a year later we had the opposite issue. Our group shrank to the point where we had an average of three people at each meeting, which doesn’t sound so bad except that if each of those people submit something, there’s only two people to give feedback on their work. That’s more of a critique partnership, which does have its place, but critique groups meet for a different purpose. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. We balance each other out. Plus, with numbers, if one person doesn’t get something that eight other people did, then it might just be them, if seven people don’t get it, it’s an issue with the writing.
This isn’t the first time this has happened. Groups ebb and flow. The new year brought with it more members and we’re slowly stabilizing. The important thing is what we did in the meantime to hang on in both cases. We made adjustments. We hosted write-ins instead of critiques when we didn’t have enough voices. We held book clubs on books on writing when we didn’t have full manuscripts to read. We found new ways to reach out to the writing community to bolster our numbers.
Keeping a writers group together takes effort. It takes commitment. It takes time. But that time is worth it. Today is the seventh anniversary of our writers group. I’ve been a member for six years and in that time, I’ve written five books start to finish, published four (one will be out shortly, the other is in queries), and I can say without a doubt, that wouldn’t have happened without my group. It’s a major time commitment, no doubt, but that time has more than paid off in my writing.
So Happy Birthday Writers Group. I owe you big time.