Ask These 4 Questions Before Joining a Writing Group
A common misconception is that we must tackle writing solo.
That is true to some extent but there are ways to alleviate the loneliness that comes with writing a book.
Joining a writing group brings much-needed human contact but it is also vital to receive feedback at multiple stages of drafting.
One of the easiest ways to acquire regular, reliable feedback is to join a writing group. Whether local or online, writing groups consist of like-minded authors who exchange work and provide feedback for one another.
The correct writing group can set you on the path for success!
However, the wrong writing group can drag your writing down, perhaps even cripple it or discourage you from completing your book. The trick lies in finding the right place for you—and your story.
So, how do you do that?
There are four questions to ask before deciding if a writing group is a good fit for you.
1. Do we share the same goals?
This question may seem like a no-brainer, but joining a writing group that doesn’t want the same things as you can be more detrimental than helpful.
For instance: are you looking for general story feedback, or do you need more help with grammar and punctuation?
Seeking one and only receiving the other will slow you down, and it can be overwhelming to get feedback you weren’t ready for.
Imagine wanting to learn if a character feels consistent, or if a certain scene works…but all you get back on your manuscript is a bunch of proofreader’s marks.
Those aren’t going to help you fix the issues you already know about, and they skip to a part of the process you likely hadn’t considered yet.
You must also ensure that you are providing the correct feedback to other members.
Before joining a writing group, determine what your goals are, and make sure they line up with the goals of the rest of the group.
2. What are the rules of the group, and do they fit my style?
Similar to #1, determine if you will be able to meet the group’s requirements.
Constantly breaking rules can create tension, both for you and for other members, and it’s generally impolite.
Before joining, ask about the expectations for and from group members. Find out what will be required of you, and if those requirements are something you’re able to fulfil and with which you'll be comfortable.
In addition to learning whether you’re able to meet expectations, learning the rules is a good opportunity to discover if there are any arbitrary or unreasonable requirements placed on the members.
If the group’s deadlines or proposed workload won't fit your schedule, don’t feel bad about continuing to search for the right group.
3. Do the people in the group like each other?
It’s important that you like your fellow group members; it can be difficult, though, to determine how well you’ll get on with people before you spend much time together.
Only time will tell if you fit in with the crowd, but a trick you can use before you join is to find out how well the existing group members get along.
That said, don’t strike up conversations with the intent to start gossip. Aside from being indicative of poor manners on your part, asking, “Do you like your fellow group members?” isn’t likely to yield a natural or honest response.
Be tactful when approaching current members about this issue. Ask if you can sit in on a meeting or two before deciding, and watch how the members interact with each other.
You can learn a lot from watching the way people speak to and share advice with each other.
If you sit in on a meeting or two, and you find that you enjoy the setting and mood, it could be a great fit for you.
4. What will I gain from this group?
While having feedback for your book is good, it’s important to note once again that not all feedback is created equal.
Members of a writing group should all sit at about the same skill level. There can, of course, be deviations, but if you’re an experienced writer, don’t stick yourself into a group of beginners, and vice-versa.
As a beginner, entering a group of seasoned writers can be overwhelming. You’ll feel left behind, or outmatched, or often like you don’t have anything to contribute. These feelings are disheartening and certainly don’t encourage you to grow or persevere.
As an expert, entering a group of beginner writers isn’t going to help you learn much. What’s worse is that, in time, you’ll likely grow resentful of your fellow group members because it can feel like you’re carrying the group, or constantly revisiting things you already know.
Writers who all sit around the same skill level can offer equal feedback to each other, and as each writer grows the group grows with them.
If you’re way ahead of or behind the class, that’s likely not the group for you.
Ultimately, your needs and wants as an author will change as you grow and learn.
The perfect writing group will lift up your writing and encourage you to keep working toward your goals. If your critique circle fails to meet those needs, it’s time to look for a group that will.
Do keep in contact with the people who have encouraged you and helped you learn and improve; but that doesn’t mean you have to stick with a group that no longer serves your needs.
Once you do join a group, be sure to give back and help your fellow writers. Remember: they need you just as much as you need them.
Being part of a writing group – the right writing group – is empowering, uplifting, and can change your writing for the better.