Frustrated amateur writer seeks supportive group/space.
January 24, 2017 9:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm a creatively frustrated, uneducated amateur writer/enthusiastic reader and I have no clue what groups/spaces would be suitable for sharing work/discussing other's work. I am concerned about joining something that is beyond my capability and I ideally want somewhere friendly and constructive. Does anyone have any suggestions?

So I haven't had any training, I haven't been on any courses, but I write short prose and have done since I was a child, everything I have learnt has come from being a book worm. I have found more and more that I'm creatively caged by a lack of community. I am in the first year of an undergrad course I don't like but found myself unexpectedly adoring one section where my tutor group (online forum) dissected some of the similes in Homer's Illiad.

I realised afterwards that what I loved was the writing and the inspiration I got from that. I have never analysed anyone's work like this before, I'm woefully uneducated despite attempting to remedy that by trying my hand at university and realising I am not intelligent enough. *But* the spark that resulted from this one task - found me sucked in and I wished I could spend more time writing myself, sharing that, reading other's writing and having discussions about what can be taken away and interpreted. I thoroughly enjoyed bouncing ideas around and getting inspiration from other people for new concepts or ideas. I also learned a lot from one fellow student who wrote beautifully and cleverly in their analysis.

I don't know where to go though. I feel like my lack of education in general means I will not fit in with writing groups and I don't know if book clubs would be suitable. So where do people like me go to expel their creative demons?

All help and advice would be greatly appreciated. :)
posted by TheGarden to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Oh dude dude dude, DO NOT feel like you aren't allowed to write because you aren't 'educated' enough! The writing world is crammed full of overeducated white upper-middle-class people who have never struggled with anything harder than ~finding their muse~, and the universe needs more people like you in the game - people who haven't always felt capable, people who have struggled. That's valuable. Don't let snooty assholes tell you any different.

You already like to write, you like to read, you like examining other peoples' work - you are so far ahead already. A lot of people dream about being writers without ever putting a pen to paper, but you've been writing since you were a kid!

As for me: I found a writing critique group on It's been wonderful for me. Everybody reads stories submitted by other members and tells them what did and didn't work for them - which is TERRIFYING, but SO HELPFUL, and never once have I seen anyone ever feel shamed for their level of education, or for anything else, for that matter. There are people of all levels of education, age, gender, race etc in my group and it's way richer for it all. And it's also very satisfying to read other peoples' work in that way, and give them advice which I think will help them get even better. (And let me tell you, your sentence construction and grammar in this post beats a lot of what I've seen in that group - and even those stories had a lot to like.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:43 PM on January 24, 2017 [13 favorites]

Firstly thank you for your time and your kind words!! Not only are you crazy supportive but sounds really great and I'm definitely going to look into joining.

I am feeling really excited about this(!) and I can't wait to get started. :)
posted by TheGarden at 10:35 PM on January 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

If you can't find anything good near you in person, there are also lots of online writing courses focused on critique, for all levels of experience.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:23 AM on January 25, 2017

I travel a lot, I currently live in Vietnam but generally I am on the move a lot, so online is best and I don't really want to commit to a course whilst being a full time uni student, but I will bare it in mind for the future. Do you have recommendations at all?
posted by TheGarden at 12:26 AM on January 25, 2017

I would also heartily recommend you listen to Liz Gilbert's podcast, Magic Lessons - I think you'll find it incredibly encouraging and empowering and emboldening. It's about the idea that nobody is ever "ready" to be creative, and the people who have a creative life are the ones who are prepared to start before they think they're "ready" and carry on regardless, overcoming the fear and learning as they go. You become ready by practising. Some episodes spoke to me more powerfully than others, so try a few if one doesn't chime with you. Good luck!
posted by penguin pie at 1:35 AM on January 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh my God, showbiz_liz just hit the nail right on the head! You know what makes for really bad writing? Constraints. Rules. People thinking they have to meet a certain standard, or write to a template. Good writers have their own voice, their own way of doing things. I don't have any suggestions about writing groups, but whatever you do, please please please always remember that your writing is at its best when you write like YOU. How would you write if you had no fear? Would you make up words, mash up genres, switch viewpoints? Shakespeare coined hundreds of words because he wrote boldly. I would suggest reading some writers who intentionally challenge the hierarchies of education and privilege that you mention in your post - Benjamin Zephaniah, Maya Angelou, Jackie Kay, the list is endless. I love the aphorism 'A language is a dialect with an army' - in other words the only thing that makes 'proper writing' proper is wealth and physical strength, it is no more logical or legitimate or valuable than writing that breaks rules.

I feel like this is a pretty incoherent rant I've unleashed here, but essentially I just want to ask that you go into writing wanting to change the system, not conform to it. The world of writing needs rebels who want to move things forward, revolutionise, vandalise and reconstruct. As showbiz_liz says, you're certainly intelligent enough to do that.

Go forth and write!
posted by matthew.alexander at 3:58 AM on January 25, 2017

I'm actually slightly surprised that there doesn't appear to be a MeFi group/spinoff where people chat about each other's work.
posted by jaduncan at 4:02 AM on January 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

I can absolutely 100% guarantee that there is a writing group out there where you will fit right in. There are writers' groups for people with decades of experience and there are writers' groups for people who have literally never written a short story in their life. There are groups with strict schedules where each member must submit work six times yearly, and groups where people just share stuff whenever they feel like it. There are groups for writers who want really tough and detailed criticism of their work, and groups for writers who just want to share their work in a supportive and encouraging atmosphere. There are groups that meet in person and groups that exist only online. There are groups for literary non-fiction and groups for fantasy novels and I bet somewhere out there is a group for people who only write Harry Potter-themed haikus.

You might get lucky and find exactly the right one on the first try, but you might well have to try a couple before you find what you're looking for. For that matter, you might have to try a couple to even figure out what you're looking for.

If there is a specific kind of writing you're interested in, you might see whether there is some sort of society dedicated to it, and see if they can point you to a critique group. For example, when I became interested in writing children's books, I joined The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Through them, I joined an online picture book critique that wasn't quite the right fit for me -- but through that group, I met two picture book writers I really clicked with, and they ended up inviting me to join a different critique group that was a better fit. I've now been with that second group for five years and we've all learned a tremendous amount from each other.

And if you just can't find the writers' group you want -- create one! You don't need anybody's permission to do it.
posted by yankeefog at 7:53 AM on January 25, 2017

I can't recommend any specific online writing groups, but I know there are lots of forums where they exist! My group meets in person, but plenty of people do this online too.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:25 AM on January 25, 2017

Oh, here are some resources that might be really helpful to you! This is a bunch of information about how to give and receive critiques from my group, which is focused on speculative fiction, but the methods can apply to any type of fiction. (Links are all PDFs.)

The Clarion Critique Method is the system the group uses to run critique sessions. The basics: everyone reads the stories beforehand, and then we all go around in a circle and each have three minutes to say what worked for us or didn't work for us, and what we did and didn't like or understand. During that time the author (and the rest of the group) can't respond, but at the end the author can ask questions and clarify things. Here is the group's specific etiquette document for these critiques. Here's an article about how giving critiques can help you improve your own writing (scroll down, there's one blank page at the start).

And, possibly most useful for you, here's a checklist for people giving critiques, about specific points to consider while critiquing work. If you want to practice giving critiques, you could use this on your own to examine other texts, both ones you like and ones you don't like. It will give you a better idea of what to consider in your own writing. (But also bear in mind that rules are made to be broken, particularly in creative endeavors!)

Also - the reason I'm so into answering this question is that I'm really just starting out myself. I was scared to write fiction for a long time, and almost everyone in my group has more experience writing fiction than I do. But they never make me feel like their experience makes them better than me - they all try to make their experience into a useful tool for less experienced writers so that we can all get better together. And that feels so good and validating and has made me a better writer already, and I want the same thing for you!
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:38 AM on January 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

These comments have been amazing.

penguin pie - I have downloaded the podcast you recommended and I will start listening this coming week - thank you for offering something that could definitely contribute to me getting more confident and owning this writing thing! :)

matthew.alexander - gah you're giving me all the feels. I realise creativity is not confined by anything, but there is always that sneaking suspicion that your own work is not good because it's not technically perfect. BUT my tendacy to assume no one would be interested in agsty short prose on the basis that it isn't poetry or a short story is now largely gone. I think you're right, I need to fling myself into the ocean with this and get my writing out there. Thank you - your encouragement is more than I could have hoped for, thank you so much.

yankeefog - thank you for your advice, I think my lack of knowledge about writing groups means I probably would have joined a potentially ill fitting one and assume they were all unsuitable. I am going to be trawling through google to find places that sound like a good match and see where it takes me. Good luck with your writing!

showbiz_liz - you've been amazing on this thread and let me tell you - it makes me wish I lived close enough to join your group even though it's not the kind of writing I do. Thank you for the links, thank you for your time, thank you for passing the positivity on. I appreciate this all so much!

Sorry. I'll stop gushing now.
posted by TheGarden at 11:00 PM on January 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

I haven't frequented this particular sub, but I have found that many Reddit groups are good for discussion and support.

And if you're flexible about subject matter, it seems that all discussion/support/challenge groups for fanfiction are online rather than IRL. There's a Reddit sub for that too.
posted by timepiece at 1:09 PM on January 26, 2017

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