Writers’ Groups — From Heaven or Hell?

writer's groupFor as many different writers out there — there are different kinds of groups.

Some groups do nothing but write — like a group study hall and there is someone like a cross between the worst librarian figure saying “shhh” and Professor Snape knocking heads together if you so much as sneeze more than once.  There are some groups that critique and tear apart manuscripts with lots of red pen and harsh words.  There are some groups that you get together and write part of the time from a prompt and some groups that you read and get told what worked well in the piece.

Now I am a person who lacks discipline and needs encouragement.  I already beat myself beside the head far too much for not writing 1667 words a day so to have someone also beat me beside the head would not help.  That would just get me to hide even farther down the rabbit hole and so I seek the group that encourages rather than critically pulls out red pens.  I have been part of two groups and they both have been quite different and yet both filling the need of the moment!

The first group I was a part of for maybe 4 or 5 years.  It was a group of maybe 6 or 8 women ranging in age from 33 to 90+.  Some wrote local history pamphlets, some textile history/academic papers, some poetry and some fiction.  This group would write short exercises before the monthly meeting — 2 of the members had taken a memoir class at the local continuing education group so when we lacked other ideas we would create “memory seeds” little phrases that would spark larger stories.  These ladies were mostly from the same work place and related friends.  These meetings were also primarily social events — excuses to get out and socialize over wine and appetizers.  Yes writing was why we got together and many were published in very select fields, but we never nit-picked over word choice and we were very encouraging to each other.

I have been a library director in a rural library for more than 5 years.  Recently a patron asked me if there was a writing group in town.  My reply was I don’t know — I haven’t heard of one.  Should we start one?  My patron was most excited and so one was started.  We had to make the decision … what kind of group should we be.  Many of us had problems with daily writing (I did say my issue was discipline, right?) some would edit over what went before and never get to new stuff.  Some wrote poetry and children’s stories, some mysteries, some thriller, one historical fiction based on local legend and one memoir based on family pictures.  So to serve the needs of everyone we couldn’t have a cookie cutter approach.  We meet twice a month at lunch time.

Since we are still brand new — we are shifting and figuring out how to help each other … but I think we are helping in the fact that we are holding each other accountable.  Word counts, character summary sheets, talking about outlines, thought processes and dreams.  We have to look at 5 other women and say this is what I have done since the last meeting.  Two women have been encouraged to start a new document every time they sit down because they never write new stuff … they just revisit the old and can never add to their story as they perfect the already written work.  I figure that the self-critic is so strong in many of us — we need encouragement more than we need one more editor!

The woman with the family pictures has to do a fair amount of research but she has organized all the pictures and has started the process.  She was so proud and I felt — wow we are helping each!

This has helped me in the fact that I have realized that I have fifty plus pages of manuscript and I need to organize it better for every time I sit down I basically need to re-read it so I know exactly what I should be doing next … I know about where I want to go but have to figure out if I have set that in motion in the manuscript or just in my mind for I think about the story far more than I actually write about it!

Writers groups — do they help me with my writing?  Yes, they encourage me for when I look at 5 expectant faces I feel that I want to please them and say I have added “X” number of words to my manuscript!  Do they help my grammar?  Maybe not … but it might take Professor Snape knocking me aside the head to help with that for I am Queen of the Run-ons!

2 thoughts on “Writers’ Groups — From Heaven or Hell?

  1. Very interesting article. My writers group has been going strong for 4, or is it 5 years? Whichever, I’ve found it invaluable. Unlike the groups you mention, mine is online and only two of us have actually met in person. We’re hoping to remedy that at some point if we can conquer the distance factor — one in Boston, one in Connecticut, one in LA and me, in Panama. Our commonality is that we’re all mystery writers. Our way of doing things has been to post when we have material and for the rest of us to critique it. Sometimes (most often), the new version is put up again for even more comment. My first book, Message From Panama, went through this process. We are also VERY interested in supporting each other. Just love our experience together and am convinced I wouldn’t have gotten my book to the publishable stage without my wonderful group.

    • I think now with so much in social media and online options this is definitely a great option. I do love the social interaction of meeting in person — but depending on where you live, that may not be feasible at this time!

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