The Cautious Writer’s Guide to Writing Groups

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Do a Google search about writers’ groups, and you’ll find a plethora of articles and resources touting its benefits for aspiring writers. But dig a little deeper, perhaps seek out discussion boards about writers’ groups, and you’ll get a very different picture. For example, a discussion on Quora reveals mixed reactions from participants about writing groups. Some had positive, even transformative experiences, while others expressed dissatisfaction with the groups they were part of, citing disinterested or dysfunctional members.

Certainly writers’ groups have their place. They provide a safe space to experiment with your writing, for example. They provide an outlet for socializing with other like-minded people so you can escape the solitariness of your writing life. They provide an opportunity to share resources and best practices, seek motivation, and help yourself and others to stay on track toward your writing goals.

But despite the positive impact they can make on your writing, they can also prove troublesome, according to Script Magazine. If getting too involved in writing groups, they can become a form of procrastination, taking you away from your real work as a writer. There can be a certain competitiveness among members, even jealousy, if one person is perceived to monopolize the conversation or if one person is published while everyone else is still trying to find their writing voice.

Most group members will tend to be at the same development level in their craft, usually just starting out or if they have been writing, still unpublished. As newbies, they may not have the perspective to share meaningful insight about your work. For more experienced and confident writers, writers’ groups may offer little value because they have passed that phase of their career.

Sometimes, members will comment just for the sake of commenting or to appear as a constructive member of the group. But that doesn’t mean they understand your work or can provide any meaningful suggestions.

Many people join writing groups for the socialization. That’s certainly a bonus. But writing is not a group effort. You still have to do the work, and that work requires significant alone time. The sooner writers accept and learn to tolerate the solitary nature of the work they do, said one of the Quora participants, the less need they will have for writers’ groups.

If you still believe joining a writers’ group is good for your career, think about these issues:

1. Decide what you want from the writing group. Do you want your work critiqued? Or do you want a place to gather and socialize, learn new techniques, share best practices and get encouragement for your work? If you are not clear about your expectations, you may join a group whose goals do not align with yours, or they don’t provide the support that you’re looking for.

2. What is the level of experience of the other members? A group consisting of people of different ages and backgrounds can offer alternative perspectives that can benefit your writing. If all group members are at the same level of development, that could limit the depth of knowledge and experience exchanged among group members.

3. Will the group members represent different writing genres, or are they all from the same genre? No matter what genre you work in – novels, screenwriting, short story, memoir – you can benefit from other writers of other genres. The only exception might be poets, who may not understand the nuances of narrative writing. Likewise, novelists and essayists may not understand poetry well enough to provide meaningful feedback to poets.

4. Will one person be moderating the discussion at each meeting, or will members rotate? A rotating schedule can ensure each member has a chance to lead the discussion and be engaged in the learning process. Conversely, having one person facilitate the discussion can provide consistency to the group. Some members may simply not want to take the leadership role.

There are other guidelines for starting and joining a writing group, including this piece of advice from author Jane Friedman. If you do decide to participate in a writing group, make sure you are clear about your own goals and expectations. As you become more successful in your career and gain more confidence, you may find you no longer need to be part of a group. They may not meet your needs as they once did or that you’ve simply outgrown them. Sometimes, group members simply grow apart or life gets too busy.

Writing groups are not for everyone. Critics of these groups say they can do more harm than good, hinder your progress as a writer or provide unnecessary distractions. There is no rule that says you have to be part of one in order to enjoy success as a writer. Only you know what is best for your career path.

Find the Support You Need for Your Writing Career

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Photo courtesy of Hubspot

Writing is often a lonely endeavor. You sit isolated in your home office working laboriously on your craft. You can see your story coming to life. Then you hit a dead end. What do you do next?

At times like these, it’s helpful to have one person or a group to reach out to for inspiration, support or good old-fashioned common sense advice. Surely your family or a close friend is the first line of defense, but they may not always understand your creative process or your deep desire to write. Even your spouse or partner can be somewhat mystified by your writing career. They might be able to provide the emotional support, but perhaps not the creative support. That’s why you need a creative support system. That system can come in the form of a person or a group.

Support systems are vital to writers and other creative types. That social outlet is needed to distance yourself from your craft temporarily to regain perspective on problem areas. Your support system may be able to see things you have overlooked. It helps to have someone to talk to, to help you become accountable for yourself and cheer you on when you accomplish your goals.

You can develop a support system from any number of places. Naturally, your family and friends are the initial lines of support. But look beyond those circles too. If you’ve taken a writing class, keep in touch with your classmates. There may be one or two who may be especially helpful to your cause. Post a message on your social media. Perhaps a former co-worker or a high school friend are avid readers and writers struggling on their own.

It helps to first determine what type of help you need. Depending on the type of support you’re looking for, your support system can be small with only one or two people or extend to an entire writing community. But not everyone wants to be part of a writers’ group. Sometimes relying on one or two people is enough to keep you sustained through tough times.

Need help deciding where to go to develop your support system beyond family and friends? Consider these other options.

A writing coach. If you’ve saved up money, you can hire a writing coach to help you through the process. These individuals are usually experienced and published authors themselves, they’ve been through what you are going through. They can guide you through the trouble spots so you can resolve them on your own. A relationship with a coach will likely be structured, and you’ll have to meet or speak with them at a designated time each week. The relationship is governed by a contract, so you will have a legal obligation to one another with set terms for payment and other details. That may or may not fit into your personal schedule.

Another downside is the cost. Coaching can be pricey and beyond most writers’ budgets, but if you are willing to work hard and desire to work with someone who will help you be more accountable for your work, then a writing coach may be a smart investment and a worthy addition to your support system.

A Mentor. While writing coaches are generally governed by a contract, a mentor is not. Like a writing coach, a mentor has been around the block before. The difference here is that the relationship is informal, perhaps evolving organically over time. There is no set schedule for meetings, so you may meet or chat once a week, once a month or even once a year. A mentor can be a former teacher, a colleague, or a current or former boss. They have loads of experience in the industry that they willingly share with you. Best of all, they can cheer you on when things get tough and celebrate with you when you achieve your goal. Meetings occur on an as-needed basis, but the value of the mentor’s insights are just as valuable as the writing coach.

A Writing group. Behind family and friends, a writer’s next best line of support may be a writers’ group. Whether you join an established one or start one of your own, consider your reasons for participating. Is it strictly to socialize to get away from your self-imposed hibernation, or do you really want an exchange of ideas or feedback on your creative project? Also consider the type of person you are. If you are a sociable type who needs people around you, a writers’ group may be the perfect source of support. Less sociable types may be better suited for a mentor or writing buddy. Writing groups can meet in person or online. Check out sites like Shewrites.org or Meetup.com, which has several reading and writing groups.

A Writing buddy. Looking for encouragement, inspiration, resources and fun? Try working with a writing buddy. You may write different genres, come from different industries or educational backgrounds. A writing buddy may be at the same skill level as you and their goals may differ. But they are friendly, non-competitive companions who want to see you succeed as much as they want to. They’ll kick you in the butt if you need to move past writer’s block and celebrate with you when you sell your first story. Whether you decide to share your work with one another is up to you, or you may decide to keep it strictly about motivation, inspiration and to talk shop. I’ve had a writing buddy for about a year now. Every time we meet for coffee, I have walked home afterward with a story idea forming in my brain. You can’t get any more inspired than that.

Every good writer and business communicator needs a strong support system. Make sure you surround yourself with the best support possible to help you achieve your goals.

Related Articles:
How to Fight Loneliness as a Work-From-Home Writer, The Writer magazine
How to Get the Help You Need, Writer’s Digest
Why Support Systems Are Essential for Freelance Life, Freelancers’ Union

Four Fun Activities to Break the Ice at Networking Events

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Image courtesy of Hub Spot

Networking events can be tedious to attend, especially if you’re uncomfortable meeting new people. But they can be difficult to plan as well, particularly if the point of the event is to introduce participants to one another. It can be a challenge to come up with fun and innovative ways for participants to get acquainted.

In all the meetings and events I’ve attended over the years, a few have stood out for their sense of fun and creativity. That’s because the planners started off with an innovative ice breaker that set the tone for the evening.

Below are a few of those ice breakers. The next time you are faced with planning a networking event, experiment with one of these ideas. You can find other ideas by following the links at the bottom of this article.

1. The M&M Game 
As participants enter the room, invite them to grab a handful of M&Ms from a bowl. Once they are seated, have them set aside three individual candies of different colors, which will be used as part of their introduction. Before they introduce themselves, the leader will reveal a set of questions they must answer based on their three candy colors they chose. The questions can be personal or business-related. For example, a red M&M might mean: What do you hope to learn from this session? A green one might mean: What business are you in? You get the idea. This exercise puts a twist on the traditional introduction at the start of the session. Plus you get to eat the candies afterward.

2. Fill-in-the-Blank Index Card
Each participant is handed an index card with twelve boxes, each containing a clue. Using the clues as a guide, the participant’s task is to match a person with the clue. For example, the clue might be “has green eyes.” The task is to find someone else attending the event who has green eyes. That person will put their signatures on that square. Each participant must move around the room, getting signatures from other attendees that match the description on the card. For larger crowds, it might be helpful to have three or four different versions of the card. Other suggested clues: shoe color, hair color, traveled to Europe (or Asia or South America), has a dog, has a bird, plays tennis, reads comic books, practices yoga, has three or more kids, lives in a high-rise building, lives in the suburbs, drives a SUV, etc. Mix it up. The goal is to have the card completely signed by twelve different individuals. This exercise assures that everyone meets at least twelve people during the event. It’s a great way to build a network in a safe, fun environment. For more fun, offer a prize for the first person to complete their card before the program begins.

3. The “Who Am I?” Guessing Game
Especially fun for a more relaxed environment, such as a part or a picnic. As people arrive, put a piece of paper on their backs with the name of a celebrity or other famous personality. Since they won’t know who they are, their task is to figure it out by asking questions about their famous personality. But there are three rules: They can ask no more than twenty questions; the questions must be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’; the questions must be asked of twenty different people. For example, “Am I a female?”, and “Am I singer?” They keep asking questions until the answers add up to a complete picture of their character. Ideally, they will have met at least twenty individuals along the way. For more fun, you might consider offering a prize to the person who guesses who they are with the fewest clues.

4. Speed Networking
 Speed networking is just like speed dating, except you’re not looking for someone to date, but someone to do business with, offer your services to or hire for a position at your company. Mind you, I have never heard of or participated in a speed networking event, but hey, if it works for dating, why not for business networking?

Speed networking would work like this. When people arrive, they are divided into group A and group B, regardless of gender. Just like with speed dating, group A people will remain seated at each of the tables while group B switch seats as they move from one table to the next for each round of conversation. Allow a set period of time for conversation, say five minutes, before the bell sounds and the line moves on. Participants can always continue their conversations after the speed networking event. After two hours, imagine how many people you could add to your business network. Many of them may not fit your needs at that time, but keep their business cards. You never know when you might need to talk with them later. (Editor’s note: I’ve never participated in a speed networking event, though I’m sure there are events similar in nature.)

Networking doesn’t have to be all work and no play. With some ingenuity, you can help participants break the ice with each other and get your meetings off to a rollicking, productive start.

Related Articles:
20 Icebreakers to Make Your Next Meeting Fun
6 Icebreaker Games For Work That Your Team Will Love
The 10 Best Icebreaker Activities for Any Work Event