Writers (Authors) Groups: Time Wasters or Helpful?

As far as I’m aware, Writers Groups come in three flavors: Marketing and the Business of Writing; Critique Groups; and Reading groups. Each have their uses for the author. The Marketing and Business of Writing groups help an author get published and reach their market. The Critique groups help to polish the work, and the Reading groups help the author to let the work go. I guess the progression would be 1- Reading, 2- Critique, and 3- Business and Marketing.

I’ve recently attended three “writers’ groups.” There are four in the area.

One group is so far away that it takes an hour to drive each way to get there for an hour’s meeting. On top of which, the group seems a bit inflexible. We “must” meet at this one bookstore to support the business. But honestly, even the coffee isn’t that good. Just a lot of books and not a lot of traffic. How can we promote our work? And if they were busier in that location, how could we really have a conversation? The group is new, so doesn’t have much of a focus yet.

The other group has only had one meeting, and the median age is much younger than me. I’m impressed with the talent! But we need to actually meet to grow in our work. I know schedules are what they are, but perhaps a monthly scheduled meeting would be nice. Their focus seems to be on Marketing and Networking on the Business of Writing.

I’ve attended another group, where authors read their work to each other. Outsiders don’t come to listen, though. The authors have different genres, which is good. But the group is small and no constructive criticism or education is offered. Authors just read. There’s no promotion involved. I guess that can be good, but how can a writer grow? We need to get to the reading public, don’t we?

I haven’t visited the last group yet. It moves around, visiting three locations. So far, it hasn’t fit into my schedule. If you saw my last post, you’ll know what I’m talking about. But the group is active and sounds promising. I know another author who attends and she likes it.

  • A lot of the writer’s conferences do the “business of writing”  and marketing stuff but walking in cold might be scary.
  • Reading gets the work out, and the author hears it in their ears, so any stumbling passages stand out. And reading to other authors isn’t as scary as reading at an open forum somewhere in the beginning.
  • Critiques in small groups can be helpful, especially for genre writers.

I would love to find one group that has real structure and is open to promoting our work and learning about the business of writing as well as putting on events to market it. I think a second group for critiquing our work across the table would be a good idea, but everyone seems so afraid of “critiquing their work.” It looks like I’ll have to be in at least two groups, though.

I know there are some agents and editors who make a lot of comments about a writer’s work to the point that a writer can lose confidence. If done in a constructive way, critiquing can be helpful. Andrew Bert taught me that in his “Critters” groups. You can read his instructions to “critters” on his website. Andrew says that critiques are about the work, not the author, and I believe him. Ed Francisco at PSCC said the same thing in his fiction writing course.

And I’ve some heard horror stories about certain editors and agents! “Change this” or “that doesn’t work so do it this way” kind of stuff, that changes the work so much that it isn’t recognizable as my own (or someone else’s). It deflates the work, muddies the original idea and tears an author’s confidence to shreds. The work loses it’s integrity in the process of becoming the editor’s favorite piece of fiction – written by someone in the editors past – not the author in front of them. And often, the author is so traumatized by the experience that s/he may stop writing altogether! That’s such a loss. To silence a unique voice because one doesn’t know how to critique or improve work. There ought to be a mandatory class in critiquing for agents!

I’ve learned to walk away from that type of negative attack critique and move forward. I try to remember that it isn’t about me, but about the critiquer. Somewhere, there is an editor/agent/publisher for my work. If that’s me, so be it. I’ll get a proofreader and go to it.

But structure, that’s another ball of string. For that, I need someone talented in the genre or familiar enough with the process that they can help me find the holes in the story before my dear reader finds it and returns the book – or posts a negative review. That’s hard to find. Typically, a group such as SFWA, MWA or RMA would be the place to find that kind of help for genred writing. And that kind of editor would likely be found at a conference somewhere.

Then, there are groups where the focus is on publication, marketing, and the business of writing. The one I’d like to meet with more does this kind of thing. There are several published authors in the group who share freely about the tools and resources they use to become better authors and obtain publication credits. The business of writing is a vast cavern that most authors approach with trepidation or not at all. It used to be the pervue of the publisher to market the work, but not anymore – now it’s up to the author!

Many writer’s conferences offer workshops on these topics. Though pricey, they are also rich places to market your work.

So, back to my question: Are writing groups a waste of time? I’m not sure. Visiting all the local groups is still part of my journey. I have one left to attend. The trick is to find a group – or a collection of groups – that do what the author needs. In this case, that’s me. I need groups – and I do mean plural “groups” –  that offer the things I need. One for critique, one for the business of writing, and one for promotion.  If I can find one group that does two of these things, I’m golden.

No matter where you are in your author’s journey, I hope you look at the groups in your area. They can be invaluable – or a waste of time. Just be open to the purpose of the group, so that you find your best fit.

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