Should I seek out a writer's group (and if so, how?)
June 1, 2019 7:52 PM   Subscribe

I've been at work (slooowly) on a historical fiction novel for a long while now. Writing fiction has been much harder than I thought it'd be (in my prior professions, I wrote a lot of carefully crafted persuasive writing, and it came easily and fluently, so yeah, I was surprised at how hard fiction has been. Cackle if you want: I deserve it.) Anyway, it feels like I'm in danger of grinding to a halt, and I really don't want to do that. Could joining a writer's group be a good idea for me?

My slow pace hasn't been the result of inadequate time to work, but rather of inadequate creative juice: I find the process of getting into these characters' minds, in a setting so far removed from mine in time and space, bizarrely draining, even though the book is plotted and the motivations make sense to me. Maybe I'm just not that imaginative a person. Still, the work keeps calling to me and I really hate to leave it unfinished.

So would a writer's group be a good idea for me? I've heard a writer's group can be good for getting feedback on what one's written. I'm not sure I'm ready for that: my challenge now is more to connect some of my plot dots, flesh out some motivations, possibly correct some of the character arcs, in order to get (at least a complete draft of!) the thing written already.

On the plus side, I've heard a "real" writer is one who shows her writing to others. I do feel like showing it on the regular to someone else could be a good next step for me. But on the con side: not only am I a very private person, I also know from experience that just because someone agrees to read your stuff doesn't mean they're the right audience for it... (I recently agreed to help a friend with his manuscript, and found that it wasn't my kind of thing AT ALL and I wound up wishing I hadn't.) Plus, I'm looking less for feedback than for support / inspiration. (Which I'd be happy to exchange with others to the degree possible, but, again: individual taste is so subjective...)

What do you think? Do I belong in a writer's group, or will it just be a distraction? And where would I find one?
posted by fingersandtoes to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Whether a writers’ group will be helpful to you specifically is hard to answer. It really depends on the group and how it’s structured. I love mine, and I’ll tell you how I found it.

I went to a writers’ conference within a few hundred miles of where I live. There I met some people from my general area, and we decided to form a group. I am one of two original members still in the group, but the group has existed for eleven years. As we’ve lost people for various reasons, we’ve found new members at the same conference.

If there’s a conference near you, it would give you a place to find out how you feel about showing your writing to others and might result in your meeting some people you want to form a group with. So I’d suggest looking for a conference. Google your state name with “writers’ conference” or check If you go to “find your community,” you’ll find info on conferences and other possible resources. Good luck.
posted by FencingGal at 8:17 PM on June 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm a book editor, and a sometime writer. My opinion is that a good writers group can be miraculous, and finding a good group is very, very hard. It's not going to help you at all to be in a group with poor writers, or good writers whose take on your work is different than what you're looking for.

My most successful sustained writing (including finishing my half-finished novel) came in a class I took -- the 90-Day Novel from LA Writers Lab. It was expensive (seems like there's a pay-what-you-want model now; I don't know about that) and was a very focused 90 days, and it totally worked for me.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:58 PM on June 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

Apparently there are writers groups on Facebook as well as a ton of writers groups in the Bay Area, if you are still there. As FencingGal mentioned, writing conferences are a great resource for finding writers groups and other potential forms of support.

I used to belong to a writers group in Europe many years ago. It was both helpful, not helpful, and a lot of work. What I am looking for these days is a writing buddy, someone with whom to share goals and discuss challenges. I don't need feedback on my work, yet, I need to write. For me, at least, having a writing buddy helps me get that work done. Drop me a line if that sounds at all appealing to you. Or look around for a local person who can maybe serve that function for you. Have work buddies in various contexts is one of my best tools for being productive. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 12:02 AM on June 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I joined a writers group in Wisconsin once. It was good for making new friends with common interests, but I was writing fiction, and a lot of them were poets. While I love poetry, and the folks were super nice, it did take up time, and hard to get a good critique from poets on fiction writing.

I've also taken a couple of creative writing classes, which I found was good for motivating me to write more often. Sharing was encouraged but not mandatory (also good). Liked the teachers in both cases, and feel they gave me good tips and feedback with being too critical. Sometimes you find groups where a few people seem to be gatekeepers, or it's not a good fit, so if you try one and it's not right, try another and see where it takes you.

I belonged to the NWU for a while, Chicago chapter, and met a lot of great people. Eventually, I moved to far away and life events happened, but I learned a lot about things like first and second rights, etc. Some of the members I met (from another locality) were a little too fanatical for me, but overall everyone I met was great, to each his own, etc. If I were thinking of publishing or wanted camaraderie, I'd join up again in a heartbeat.

I did have a writing buddy, think I found from a CL ad, she was nice, but not very focused, and well, I need focus when I am actively writing. It began to eat into my time, she wanted a best friend more than a writing buddy, so that became difficult because I was busy in other areas of my life and didn't have the time for a new BFF who wanted to email me daily, several times, and visit my house, do other activities together, etc. So make sure if you do something like that, set boundaries on what you hope to accomplish, realistic time expectations on both sides, or do you just want to sit somewhere and write while someone else is also writing at the same time? Think about what you want, because I didn't. It just turned into a major distraction for me, from which I then had to bow out.

I'd say taking a class here and there helped me, because I had someone holding me accountable to write every week, even if it was writing exercises, I was writing, and it got me out of the house, with a set schedule, and I didn't have to read other people's stuff when I was busy creating my own. For professional contacts and info on the publishing industry the union was good, and it helped to meet writers at all levels and stages of their careers, and got me more in the mode of, yes, I am a writer, to take it more seriously.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:51 AM on June 2, 2019

Wait, are you me? Because I could have written this message. I've been working on a Regency romance for a while now, and it's been a slog, even though I've been reading the genre for decades. I can easily get caught up in being in my own head, worrying about why my super rough draft isn't as great as an edited and published work, agonizing over the character arcs, and getting caught in research spirals. All part of the creative process, I suppose.

I did want to mention that I am in the Bay Area as well, and a member of the SF Shut Up and Write! group. With Shut Up and Write!, you don't need to share your work. You show up, write, and there's always a break for writers to chat with each other about the process. I've found it very useful so far, and I even managed to meet my first fellow Regency romance writer in the wild, which was quite exciting.

Otherwise, I agree with what others have said about writing groups. Having taken some writing classes, I would share my work with other folks writing general fiction, and sometimes it was very, very clear when our fellow writers don't get the genre that I'm writing in and therefore didn't have a lot to offer in terms of useful feedback.

In the meantime, I would love to act as an accountability partner and sounding board if you're interested. We don't have to share our work if we don't want to, either, since I'm protective of my baby historical romance novel; I'm constantly waffling between yes! I want to share this with the world and no! I must keep it clasped to my bosom.
posted by so much modern time at 3:07 AM on June 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Yes, Shut Up and Write. For me it's a good blend of work time and supportive structure. You don't share your work with anyone, you just show up at the appointed time, write, chat, write again. My local Nanowrimo community also has off-season write-ins, some are craft focused and some are just scheduled writing time.

If you are looking for more guidance on craft, revision, and the how-to's of writing fiction, a class or a conference, or even wandering around your local library's 808.3 section, would help. I found Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (Renni Browne and Dave King) fantastic. There's also genre-specific craft advice. Writers Digest is a good place to start and they have a pretty active forum.
posted by basalganglia at 4:08 AM on June 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have found my writing group to be of tremendous help. I guess I got lucky and stumbled into the perfect group for me via MeetUp as soon as I started looking. Others in the group talk about how they struggled to find the right group.

To address one particular concern: We encourage group members to bring work in whatever stage they're at. We've talked about everything from pieces that have seen multiple drafts to typo-filled first drafts and even rough ideas. There's no reason you couldn't bring the work and issues you describe to the group I'm in and get useful feedback. In addition, I find being around creative people helps to spur my own creativity.
posted by maurice at 5:13 AM on June 2, 2019

The other option might be to try to create an artist's accountability group. The purpose of the group would to support each person doing what they need to do rather than critique the work directly. A quick search on accountability groups . (Mastermind groups seem to be a business oriented subset.)
posted by metahawk at 11:55 AM on June 2, 2019

People I know rave about their writing group, but I tried joining two and ran into difficulties with each.

Group 1. Everyone in the group was lovely, but it was frustrating for me because some of the people would put a lot of work into carefully writing a page long critique of each person's submission (including what worked and what didn't), while others would only put one or two check marks on it and nothing else. Plus, we had a lot of different genres and none of us knew about the other's genres, so our critiques were of limited value. Sometimes we'd criticise something that was standard in that genre.

Group 2. This group had personality issues, including one person who stood up and shrieked at the others. Another person dominated a meeting by going on and on about her work.

Bottom line: know what you want from a group, find out if the others can give it to you, make sure that group members are equally committed, and have some ground rules in place.
posted by purplesludge at 10:35 AM on June 3, 2019

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