I’ve been a member of a women writers’ group and facilitated a children writers’ group over the past few years and found that while certain topics and genres gain and lose popularity, the overall success and dynamics of a group ultimately depends on its members. To be a productive member in your writers’ group and to get the most out of your participation, I suggest the following:
1. Find a group that meets your needs. Don’t settle on a group just because it’s the first one you find. There are many different options both online and in-person, so take your time to find one that makes you feel comfortable and supported.
You should leave your writing group feeling energized and inspired to write. If you feel frustrated, upset or unmotivated, move on and find a different group.
2. Give in order to receive. Writers’ groups are places where everyone involved should benefit from the interaction. If you hope to receive feedback on your work, you need to provide feedback to others, and this means saying more than you like or dislike something.
Be specific by pointing out passages or sentences that stood out. Provide suggestions on resources you’ve used that may help others. The more you engage in the conversation, the more people will reciprocate that engagement by providing you with suggestions, resources, and feedback.
3. Provide constructive criticism, pointing out both strong points and areas for improvement. Nothing is more unproductive than a writers’ group where everyone says they love what everyone else has written. If you are concerned about providing feedback on areas for improvement, work your feedback into a criticism sandwich by providing constructive criticism between positive feedback and words of encouragement.
4. Be timely. If you are expected to deliver a critique on a piece, follow through on your commitment to do so. Don’t leave your fellow writers waiting. Time is scarce for everyone, so if you’ve promised someone that you’d take a look at their work by a certain date, make sure you keep your promise. You are much better off by under promising and over delivering rather than the other way around. If you don’t think you can follow through on a delivery date then don’t commit to one.
5. Come prepared to participate. Turn off your cell phone and have a pen and paper handy. In order to get the most out of your writers’ group, you need to engage completely in the topic. Listen when others are receiving feedback on their work; you may be able to apply some of what you hear to your writing. Take notes on the feedback you receive. Ask questions. Speak up if you have something to add to the conversation. If your group invites a special guest, take the time to introduce yourself and always have a few cards handy.
6. Make it a routine. Be accountable to yourself and others by attending writers’ group meetings on a routine basis. Schedule them into your busy day and consider attending meetings as part of your job as a writer. If you participate in an online group, login to forum discussions and check comment boards on a frequent basis. A writers’ group is only as strong as the people who are committed to them, so prove to yourself and your group members that you are serious about your writing by making a point to attend and be engaged each and every time you attend a meeting.
What experiences have you had with writers’ groups? Please let us know in the comments below.