***The following post was first published on May 14, 2014, but with updated information.***
For years when I was younger, I dreaded attending writing groups. I compared them to a wake of vultures ready to descend upon the carcass that is my writing piece and rip it apart. Then, the birds would return to me my work’s remains with loads of comments that suggest I have no talent. Facing this “fact,” I would resign myself to a lifetime of never picking up a pen or touching a keyboard again.
Then, I actually joined a writing group.
When I lived in New Jersey, there was a group that met in a bookstore, in a huge room where authors hold their book signings. The group was nothing like in my over-the-top imagination. The writers were helpful and thoughtful. I learned a lot from the leader, a freelance writer and writing teacher. In reality, a writing group isn’t a nightmarish quagmire, but a support network that encourage and inspires its members.
Nowadays, as a writing group member, I recommend joining one. After moving to Florida, I joined Writer’s Atelier in Winter Park, FL. Their Facebook groups have supportive members, who are part of a large and thriving Central Florida writing community. I’m also a member of the Florida Writers Association.
Writing is a “lonely” and “solitary” job, to quote Hemingway and Faulkner. But it doesn’t mean isolating yourself when it’s time to revise your first, second or even 20th draft. Getting involved with a writing group is a terrific way to gain writing guidance, insight, and encouragement.
Here are some benefits of joining a writing group.
Get helpful feedback
A writer is partial to his/her work, no matter how many times he/she revises it. Getting other readers to read your work is not only suggested, but mandatory. They will point out the draft’s flaws you may have never noticed before.
A writing group is an excellent place to find beta readers because they pretty much know what to look for. Don’t just receive feedback. Try giving some to other members as well. Give more, get more!
A word of caution here: critiques are recommendations, not the gospel truth. When one member suggests a flaw in your draft, you don’t have to accept it. You have the final say in telling your story. But if several people point out the same flaw like an underdeveloped protagonist or a flat scenery description, maybe consider that shortcoming.
Receive plenty of support and motivation
I can’t tell you how many times I left a writing group feeling reinvigorated to go home and write. A writing group is a support group for writers. From combating writer’s block to overcoming rejection from publishers and agents, we writers need all the support we can get.
Some writing groups read each other’s work out loud. Such readings can inspire you to compose your own material just as well or better.
Some groups have writing prompts, which are the diving board to creating material. One group I was attending had a prompt in which each member wrote a chapter of a book. At each meeting (held every two weeks), the author presented that chapter. Then it was up to another member to continue the story. Our story ended up being about a journalist and his friends squaring off against Nazi zombies. One chapter was written in Greek epic poetry style a la Homer’s “The Iliad.”
Gain new writing techniques
A writing group can trade how-tos on writing techniques, publishing oaths, marketing strategies, and everything in between. Like everything else, writing is a forever-evolving profession or hobby. If a writer desires to grow and change, he/she will have to move out of the comfort zone.
Learn about contests, literary events, and more
Writing groups have newsletters and websites, great for staying up-to-date on writing contests, book events, author appearances, workshops and other opportunities. Consider signing up for such resources and take advantage of them. They can help refine your writing skills and keep you plugged in with a network of writers.
If a group isn’t meeting your goals, search elsewhere. In time, you will discover a writing group (or two or three!) that not only benefits your purposes, but also a camaraderie of writers that have your back.
Teresa Edmond-Sargeant is an author living in Orlando, FL. Check out her work on her Amazon author page.