Five Signs That You’re Ready to Join a Writer’s Group

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This week’s writing prompt: What date on the 2021 calendar do you have circled? Is there a special event that you are looking forward to this year? Why is this date circled?

Writing is often a solo journey, but sometimes you need to pick up a few passengers along the way. You may be at a point where you need to hear different perspectives about your work-in-progress or pick up tips from fellow writers. Perhaps you hit a wall and can’t seem to write another word. That’s when you may benefit from joining a writer’s group.

Not every writer needs or wants to join a writer’s group. They can get by with working in isolation before sharing their work with two or three close confidants. Other writers, especially beginning writers or hobbyists, relish the social interaction and feedback that groups provide.  

Wherever you are on the writer’s spectrum, there will come a time when you will want to seek support or feedback for your work. That’s where a writer’s group might be a practical move on your part. Sometimes the insights of other writers can point you in the right direction – or a different one that you had not considered.

Writer’s groups aren’t for everyone, however. There are a few dangers to groups, writes Jennie Nash in this guest post at JaneFriedman.com. You may find that the writers in the group are either more experienced or are all beginners. You will have to decide what level of writers you want to work with. Writers who are struggling with their own writing may not be the best judge of your work.

Other times, members may not know how to give constructive feedback because they either don’t want to offend you or because they simply don’t know what they should be commenting on, Nash adds. In those instances, it might help to express what you want them to look for. Generic feedback may not help you improve your writing. But a more specific request, such as whether the dialogue sounds natural, may be more helpful.

Then there is the decision to join a writer’s group. How do you know you are ready to take the plunge? Here are five signs that you might be ready to join a writer’s group.

1. You’re tired of working in isolation. When you work solo most of the time, it’s necessary to grab some social time to balance your writing schedule. This is especially important during the current pandemic where most of us are working from home. A writer’s group can provide that social outlet. Whether you decide to meet once a week or once a month, you can develop some meaningful friendships while improving your craft.

2. You want feedback on your current work-in-progress. Perhaps you’ve been plugging away on a novel that just doesn’t’ seem to be moving along at the pace you intended. Or your characters seem flat, or you’re unsure where to go next with the plot. Having other writers review and provide feedback on your work can help you figure out what you may doing wrong and what you can do to fix it. Your group members may see things that you don’t. 

3. Your productivity is lagging. You want accountability for your writing practice so you can stay productive and meet your writing goals and deadlines. Since writing is more of a marathon than a sprint, a writer’s group can provide the support you need through the long haul.

4. You’re looking for beta readers to test out story ideas. You’ve come up with one or two story ideas, but you’re uncertain whether there’s enough substance to make them work. A writer’s group can help you assess the story, whether it needs more development or whether to save a scene or two for another plot, or simply to dump the idea altogether. Again, member feedback can give you needed perspective.

5. You’ve exhausted all the traditional modes of learning your craft. Through a writer’s group, members can swap stories of personal experience, learn from one another, and exchange writing resources. It’s another form of education beyond classes and workshops.

Before signing up for a writer’s group, however, you need to assess your own writing needs. According to Brooke McIntyre in this guest post at Jane Friedman’s blog, there are several questions you need to ask yourself.

* What is your writing experience? Are you a beginner or are you more experienced. Joining a group of beginners may test the patience of a more experienced writer.

* Do you have a completed manuscript to share now? Or are you more interested in a group that will motivated you through the finish?

* Do you have a consistent practice currently? Or are you looking for motivation to start a consistent practice?

* Where do you want to go with your writing? What can a writer’s group do for you now to help you get there? What do you want from it?

* What other ways are you developing your writing progress? Have you attended workshops and classes? Have you read books, blogs and magazine articles to learn about writing? If you’ve exhausted all these avenues, then a writer’s group might be the next step.

Once you understand where you are in your writing practice, where you want to go and how to get there, you can decide if you’re truly ready to join a writer’s group.

Writing Critiques: Who Are The Best People to Review Your Writing?

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It’s one thing to show off your latest work to your family and closest friends. After all they are the ones who know you best. They know how ambitious and creative you are and how hard you work at your craft. But can they be truly objective about your work? Can they provide more helpful comments other than “it’s a great story.” If you want more than a pat on the back, then you have to look elsewhere to get your writing critiqued.

There are writing groups, of course. Many new writers swear by them, claiming they have gained valuable feedback from fellow group members. But most members are as new as you are to writing, so they may not have the best perspective of your skill or a solid grasp of your story. Members will likely tell you that the work is good as is, simply because they either don’t want to offend you or because they want to be seen as a valued contributor to the group or because they may not understand the difference between good writing and great writing. Personally, I’m skeptical of writers groups for critiques.

So who are the best people to critique your writing? Depending on where you are in your writing process, any one of the following people can provide meaningful and practical feedback.

1. Close friend or spouse
In his book On Writing, Stephen King suggests completing a first draft before having your work reviewed, and then showing it to only one or two people who are closest to you and who you trust, usually a spouse, partner or best friend. King’s wife reviews his first drafts, and she provides valuable input that helps him during the revision phase.

Your significant other knows you best, understands your love of writing, and supports your need to spend countless hours pouring your heart and soul onto a blank page (or computer screen). They may be in the best position to tell you if there’s a better way to phrase something or if a character seems one-dimensional or if a plot twist seems contrived. They may be close to you personally, but they are not close to your work, so they can give you an objective review of your work without killing your enthusiasm for it.

2. Writing instructor or coach
If you’ve ever taken a writing class, you know how valuable the instructor’s knowledge can be. Not only do they become familiar with you as a writer over time, they can help you become aware of your own creative thought process. In that way, you refine your self-editing skills. As they become more knowledgeable of your writing, they can identify weak spots you need to improve on as well as strengths you can maximize to the fullest.

A coach not only provides technical guidance but will also help you be accountable for your writing and help you stay on track to meet your goals. They may be published authors themselves, so they can give you insights about the path to publishing. Many instructors also serve as coaches, offering instruction on a one-on-one basis. Instructors and coaches help you learn to help yourself, but their services may come at a price — the price of a writing class or a coaching session. But the cost may be worth it.

3. Beta readers or reading groups
Other helpful sources of feedback are beta readers and reading groups. Beta readers are individuals in your personal network who are avid readers, while reading groups are groups of avid fans. They may be fans of certain genres, such as mystery or science fiction. If you’re writing a science fiction novel for young adults, reach out to the avid readers in your network and ask for their input. Because they are familiar with the genre and have likely read tons of stories in that genre, beta readers can tell you how your story compares with others they’ve read. Is it on par with them, or does it need improvement? Beta readers and reading groups understand what works and what doesn’t, what will appeal to readers and what won’t.

Mind you, reading groups have a different focus than writing groups. While writers groups focus on writing technique and performance, readers’ groups focus on the storytelling aspect. They understand what makes readers read certain books and not others. And that information can help you craft your story better.

4. An editor
After you’ve revised your story enough times to make it believable and readable, it’s time to submit it to an editor for review. That thought might make you weak in the knees, but don’t fret. Remember, editors are your friends. They’re there to help you hone your story further. They’ve reviewed and edited hundreds of other stories, so they know that many of them are decent enough stories, but aren’t publishable. The editor can tell you how to make your story more publish-worthy.

There are two types of editors. One works for a publication and routinely reviews submitted stories. They know what writing style they’re looking for and the types of stories they want to publish. If your work does not meet the publication’s criteria, it will be rejected.

The second type of editor may work on their own, offering their services to aspiring writers before they formally submit it to an agent or publisher. They will likely charge you for their expertise, but it may be worth it to have someone review your work with a fresh pair of eyes. If you’ve worked on it a long time, you may be too close to your work to see it objectively.

To find a freelance editor, ask fellow writers for referrals. Or check out organizations such as Editorial Freelancers Association or the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors, which post directories of editors.

5. An already published writer
If you’re fortunate enough to count a published writer among your acquaintances, take advantage of their expertise. Ask if they are willing to review a few pages or a chapter or two. If they don’t have time to review it, ask if they’re willing to discuss your project. You might get enough meaningful advice just through the discussion alone. Since they’ve been through the publishing process already, they can tell you what worked for them and what they would do differently.

6. An agent
If you aspire to be published, at some point, you will want to show your completed work to a literary agent. Agents tend to work in specific genres, so do your homework and find an agent that works in the same genre as your story. A good place to start is Writer’s Market, which is updated and published every year, and Writer’s Digest magazine, which profiles a literary agent in each issue. Each agent is different, so be sure you review their submission criteria.

Agents will review your work with an eye on its marketability. Will it sell? Is it publishable? Agents have relationships with multiple publishers and can determine if your story is a good fit at one of them. Most important, they’ll review your work to determine if you are worthy of being represented by them.

Depending on where you are in your writing journey, you will no doubt have a connection to one or several of these individuals at some point. No matter which of these people you choose to review your work, their insights can help you become the best writer you can be.