On Writers Groups: Part I—The Benefits

Yesterday Mots Justes confessed that blog-writing has taken a backseat to other projects as of late. All of my writing has. That I’m writing at all owes everything to my writers groups. (Yes, groups—I’m currently in two.)

If you’re not in a writers group, join or start one now. Even if your writing hasn’t been suffering like mine has, the benefits are numerous:

  • Deadlines: For me, the number-one benefit of being in a writers group is having a deadline. I have come to realize that I am virtually incapable of functioning without one. Writers groups to which I have to submit pages keep me generating work and turning it in on a regular basis because I am accountable to someone other than myself. (Speaking of which, I owed my group pages, like, yesterday!) ¶ “Since you want to write, it doesn’t actually feel like it’s a typical responsibility,” says one of my writers group members. “For me, there’s also a palpable sense that if I don’t write, I’m letting people down.” ¶ “When I know our meeting is coming up, I make more time to write,” adds another grad school friend of mine.
  • Feedback: The whole reason many writers groups exist is so that members can get feedback on their writing. If you work with the same people over an extended period of time, they get to know and become invested in your work. (My current writers group has read my entire novel, although not from beginning to end but in fits and starts as I jumped around the narrative.) Your writers group can acknowledge what you’re doing well and help you recognize where you need improvement. ¶ “With the right group, you can feel like you’re in a really good workshop class, minus the kick in the wallet,” says my fellow group member. “If you’re the sort of person who thinks everything you generate is great or is [awful]—guilty as charged on the latter—it’s nice to get some opinions that come in more toward the less-extreme ends of the quality spectrum (assuming you listen to them).”
  • Advice: In addition to feedback specific to your work, writers groups are valuable sources for all kinds of writing advice and resources such as where to send submissions or how to draft query letters. Share the books, articles, and websites you’ve discovered with your peers.
  • Support: Writers are a particularly neurotic bunch, and we all have days when the writing just isn’t working, when nothing we write seems like it’s any good, when we feel like frauds. Since we’ve all been through it, we can relate when it happens to someone else, assure them that it’s really not as bad as it seems, talk them through it.
  • Camaraderie: This actually is a huge part of my writers group. We either meet at a bar or restaurant or have a potluck at one of our homes—a different location each time. We’ve even gotten together for Sunday brunch. And we always spend one or even two hours visiting and eating. Writing is such a solitary, isolating activity, that sometimes you just need to get out of the house and see other people. ¶ There is the danger, however, that socializing will become the group’s primary, then sole, activity. “Doubling the meeting with a potluck meal was not conducive to building a steadfast group,” says one of my grad-school classmates. “It became a social event (which we really enjoyed), but this deemphasized the main point of the group, which for me [was] to clean a piece up for publication.” Keep the group focused on the writing but make time to socialize, too—you might set aside the occasional get-together just for this purpose.
  • Connections: Finally, a huge benefit of participating in a writers group is that when you do get published, you have a built-in fan club. Having grown attached to you work, your fellow group members will be the first in line to buy a copy, attend a reading, and get their friends to do the same.

Meanwhile, John Fox over at BookFox offers an alternative benefit: “Money. My writing group ponies up forty dollars apiece for a pot that the person with the most publications/submissions/material written wins.” Hey, whatever gets you motivated!

How else have writers groups been beneficial to you? Leave your insight in the comments section below.

And next week in Part II, MJ will look at different types of writers group. Share your suggestions now by email (findtherightwords[at]gmail[dot]com) or on Twitter (@motsjustes).

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