A good writing group is like a tonic that will heal, strengthen and renew the painful illness of writing. Here are 15 reasons why you need one and how you can set one up.
1. Your kick in the pants
Many writing projects are like ultra-marathons; long and excruciating. You’re super-motivated at the beginning, but as time goes on you wonder why you’re doing it to yourself. It’s those moments when you’ll appreciate your writing group most. If you’re meeting once a week (my personal recommendation), you’ll give each other the kick-in-the-pants it takes to finish a project.
2. Sparkling revelations
Creative ideas are the seeds of sparkling revelations. Listening to the perspective of others and being open to learn from those perspectives will inspire new and better ideas. If you choose your partners well, you’ll find that when you’re most stuck, it’s your writing group that will remind you of your own ideas and then add to them, making them even richer than they already are.
3. Your flame of encouragement
Being a writer who sits in front of the blank screen thinking for much of the day, is hard work. Often, by the end of the day, as you watch the sun set and cursor blinking on your still blank screen, you can’t help but hate yourself. You’ll reach out by email to your writing group. They’ll email you back with words of encouragement; magical words that will make tomorrow’s writing much better.
4. You’re a professional
When you’re a part of a writing group, in addition to exhibiting your dedication to your project, you’re also exhibiting professionalism. The only way to build your writing ability is to enable it to be critiqued. Being a professional writer means making yourself vulnerable. It means opening yourself up to constantly improving. It means that you understand that your writing project is about your reader and not about yourself.
5. Become a better judge of your own writing
By being a part of a writing group, you’re not only being critiqued, you’re critiquing others. Being kind and helping others is a wonderful act. And helping others push their project forward is many times fulfilling in itself, but doing so makes you a better writer. Your eye will become sharper and you’ll instinctively know what works better, not only in the work of your group members, but in your own work as well.
6. Discover new tools
Sure, as part of a writing group, most of your discussions will be about your writing projects. But they won’t be exclusively about them. There will be plenty of talk about the tools you use to organize the chaos of your story, manage your time and even find agents.
Here are three tools that have come up in my writing group:
i. Trello is a very useful tool to organize your story (and other projects). By adding, moving and removing cards to and from your different lists, you can more easily keep track of your characters, their arcs and even plot lines and themes.
ii. Toggl – Time is a precious commodity. That’s why it’s so important to track what you’re spending it on. Toggl makes it simple to tell if you’re using your time wisely for your writing projects or other duties or if you’re wasting it.
iii. Boomerang – This nifty tool has multiple capabilities. Want to know if an agent has viewed your email? Want to schedule an email to be sent later? Use Boomerang. You’re in for a treat. Really.
7. Get pulled out of the mud
Writing a story is hard: characters are reflections of people and they must be handled with extreme care; plot lines are the threads of a yet unwoven fabric that you must make sure not to tear or tangle; themes are the foundation of your story upon which all else is built. You’re going to screw up and you’re going to get stuck in the mud. It’s just how it is. Because it’s hard. But when you have a writing group, it’s ok. Because they will be the first to come to your rescue, feed you your own story, help you brainstorm and get you back on track.
8. Become a better writer
When you’re part of a writing group, you not only become a better judge of your own writing, but also a better writer. As part of an effective writing group, I promise you that you’ll spend more time thinking about your story and writing it. You’ll also be spending time critiquing and helping your friends write better stories. The more time you spend writing and understanding the art of storytelling, the better you will become. Period.
9. Banish fear.
As a writer fear=self-doubt. Sadly, self-doubt moves us to inaction. We feel we suck, so we stop. But when you’re in a writing group and you’re meeting every week, you’re not stopping to think about fear. It has no place. It’s banished through writing and critiquing. Fear/self-doubt have no place when you’re too busy moving forward.
10. Form new friendships
This is perhaps one of the most rewarding and significant aspects of being part of a writing group. I have been a part of quite a few writing groups throughout the years. I have met incredible people and formed meaningful relationships that last well beyond the lifetime of the writing group. Finding people you can speak to and relate to on a deep level is not a trivial matter. A good writing group is a gift for life. It’s not just about writing.
Over time, you and your writing group friends become so heavily invested in each others work that you find connections to help each other succeed. As you develop a friendship with your writing partners you also naturally discuss your connections and make the necessary introductions.
I know I said 11, but I just couldn’t help adding one more to the list:
12. Get out of the house
Writing is lonely. Becoming a part of a writing group helps makes writing your project more of a team sport (not that it becomes a team sport, just that it becomes less lonely). By getting out of the house and meeting people, you allow yourself to open your mind to others and their ideas. It helps your creativity and will hopefully even put a smile on your face.
What you need to know about setting up your own writing group
Setting up a writing group may sound complicated. It’s not. The most important thing of course is to find good people. Good people, for the purpose of writing group, are people who meet the following criteria.
(i). They are kind
(ii). They have a project they’re currently working on
(iii). They’re serious about completing their project
(iv). You’re on the same writing level
Of all the criteria I mentioned. The fourth is the trickiest. I have been very lucky with all of my writing groups, though I must say I feel particularly lucky with my current group – Debra Kamin and Tiffanie Wen who are beautiful people and exceptionally gifted writers. These two ladies have bailed me out of my story troubles more than once and continuously help me to better understand the writing process.
How many people should be in your writing group?
Of course, it’s up to you. But I think that a group shouldn’t be more than 4 people, so that everybody’s work gets read and critiqued at least once a month. Not only that, but trying to work out a time that meets everybody’s schedule is very difficult, even for a group of four. The more people in the group, the more difficult it becomes to set a time that suits everyone, which optimally is what you want.
How often should you meet?
It most likely depends how far along you are in our project and how much free time you have to meet. We’ve found that once a week gets us hyped up to work hard and get stuff done. It doesn’t always work out and we do our best to be flexible and understand each other, because life sometimes gets in the way.
Do you all need to be writing the same genre?
The answer is, no. In my group, each of us are working on completely different projects in very different genres. It makes no difference as long as you understand the project and are able to connect with it and provide an honest critique.
What happens if my group falls apart?
It will. Writing groups don’t last forever. There’s something about writing groups that reminds me of square dancing. Hold on to a great partner for as long as you can, and once it doesn’t work anymore for whatever reason, let go, move on and find your next partner. Look forward, not back, stay friends.
What do you love about your writing group? If you don’t have a writing group, what’s holding you back from having one?