Monday, October 27, 2014

This Writing Life 14: Why I Hate Writing Groups (and why you might want to join one)

Many writers like writing groups. They find them helpful, useful, and companionable. They find people with common goals, common interests and a common desire to help each other succeed.

I don’t.

My Writing Group Experiences

The first writing group I joined was led by two psychiatrists big into literary fiction and poetry.  I was writing a screenplay about a Kung Fu student who has to fight of an army of invading demons. They critiqued it my half-finished draft and I never finished it.

Not a good fit.

My second writing group was with two dear friends.  Both are smart, both write well, both had projects they were working on.  Neither was trying to writer for a living, which is too bad, because what they wrote was good.

Our meetings became irregular.  People didn’t have the promised pieces when they were supposed to have them.  We didn’t get a chance to meet often and eventually it dissolved.

What Went Wrong?

First time?  I was young and not sure what I was looking for. I didn’t know what I wanted from a writing group, and how it was supposed to work.  I joined a group of people with different goals and expectations, and as a result felt out of place and that my work was being critiqued for what it wasn’t (literary fiction) instead of what it was (kung fu movie with mythic elements using both “realistic” and “fantasy” kung fu tropes as well as elements of horror to create a multi-dimensional adventure).

I really should finish writing that.

Second time, it was about commitment. All of us were building our careers, but mine was the only one that was a career in writing. The other two had other concerns. There was no set agenda, no dedication to the group, and so it faded away.

On the Other Hand

There are many writers who swear by writing groups, Julie Czerneda [], whose new book, A Play of Shadow [} launches next week, and Brandon Sanderson [ ] (best known for completing Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series and an excellent writer in his on right) among them.

These writers have found (or have helped to found) a group of like-minded individuals with the same level of dedication to craft and to getting the work done.

Should I Join a Writer’s Group?

I don’t know. Do you want to?

That’s Unhelpful

I don’t know what’s going through your head! Maybe you really just want a book club.  Maybe you’re desperately pining after someone who’s in a writing group and think that joining will help you build a relationship.  Maybe you’re a writer who likes quick, quality feedback and would thrive in a writing group environment. I don’t know your life.

But I do know a few things:

Don’t Waste Their Time

 A good writer’s group is about writing. They have rules and standards and requirements, and if you can’t meet them, don’t bother joining.  Just like you want to get something out of it, so do they. Respect it.  If you can’t keep up, drop out and spare them the embarrassment of kicking you out.

Don’t Waste Your Time

A writer’s group should be about helping each other grow and improve as writers.   Does the group critique members work and if so, how? Do they provide useful (specific, helpful, and honest) feedback or not (vague, unhelpful and don’t want to hurt your feelings). Do they meet regularly? Do they look down on the genre you write in?  Do they spend their time talking about their projects instead of giving you samples?  If any of the above are “yes”, they are probably a waste of your time.

Don’t Think a Writing Group Will Make You A Success

There are a lot of writers in writing groups who will never be published and never make a living at this.  That’s because there are a lot of writers who will never be published and never make a living at this. It’s a hard business.

…Or a Failure

Because Brandon Sanderson, Julie Czernada, and others. Because sometimes the best thing to improve your work is to have a group of people who care about it rip it to shreds. Because you may flourish as a writer when you have external deadlines and a group waiting for your work.

As For Me

I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, because so far it seems to be working.

Next Week: Getting Through The Bad Days, or Suck It Up, Buttercup

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