Writing groups can be really great, or really really awful! I should know, I have belonged to several that fit into these categories! One of them kickstarted my writing career and was amazing for me at that stage, another only had one meeting before the entire thing fell apart. I am currently a member of one Transnational Creative writing group (which is the bee’s knees), one online writing group with some people from my MA in Creative Writing, who are now spread out across the world, and tonight I am going to a brand new writing group! Which I hope will become a regular thing!
So how do I choose a writing group? Here are the five questions I ask myself when I am looking for a critique group.
1. Do they write the same sort of thing as you?
I have belonged to groups in the past that advertised as general writing groups but definitely had a preference for poetry. At the time this was great for me, it introduced me to the wonders of open mic nights, and I still regularly write poetry as a part of the Poetry Rehab 101 hashtag. But if you’re trying to get feedback on your novel and everyone else is reading performance poetry, you’re going to feel like a right tool reading 1000 words of prose. The group I am going to tonight are prose writers, they were set up a while ago but have just started advertising on Meetup, and from reading the bios of the other members, I see that many of them are working on novels.
But if you’re trying to get feedback on your novel and everyone else is reading performance poetry, you’re going to feel like a right tool reading 1000 words of prose.
The group I am going to tonight are prose writers, they were set up a while ago but have just started advertising on Meetup, and from reading the bios of the other members, I see that many of them are working on novels.
2. Do they read the work beforehand or will you be expected to read out loud?
There are advantages to both, but as I want to work on my novel, I want a group that will read the work before the meeting. However, my first ever writing group read work out loud and I learned that it is a great way to self-edit, as well as gaining confidence in a really important skill you will need as a writer.
The group I am going to meet tonight normally swap work beforehand, but as this is the first meeting with lots of new members, we are taking a short piece of prose to read out loud tonight.
3. How long has the writing group been meeting?
Again, pros and cons to both. If a group has been meeting for a long time and you are the newcomer, they will know each other’s work and will already have a routine. If it is a new group, there might not be a clear leader, there will be no ground rules, but they might be more open to suggestions.
And two questions to ask on the night –
4. How experienced is everyone in this writing group?
Do they know what they are talking about, or is it a group of people all struggling together. It can be great to have friends to struggle with, and depending on the stage you are at, this could be all you need.
But if you are in the final stages of editing your novel, maybe you want some experienced collaborators who will tell you exactly why that third chapter isn’t working. If you are the most experienced, you may end up taking on a leadership role. Would you mind this?
Another point to bear in mind is that other people, if not as experienced, may not know how to give constructive feedback. A group with no constructive feedback is not a critique group.
5. Will I be able to get on with these people and be around them for an hour every week, plus be in their heads for two hours when reading their work?
I saved the most important question for last. Writers come in many shapes and forms, and just because you want to be writers, doesn’t mean you are all going to end up best friends.
I am lucky, the two critique groups I currently belong to consist of my very best friends, but in the past, I have had to give feedback to people that I don’t like, to people that probably don’t like me, and perhaps the hardest, people I have absolutely nothing in common with. Sometimes this can be good because you can be deadly honest and not care if you are ruining a great friendship in the process. Just ask if you can handle the same deadly honest feedback in return!
So to sum up, I think the most important question, the all-encompassing question, is “What do I want to get out of this writing group?” All other questions stem from this. Once you have answered this question for yourself, don’t stray, writing groups can be a great help, but if they aren’t right for you, they can be a huge drain on time and money.