What A Successful Writing Group Looks Like

Prior to this month, I belonged to two writing groups.

One, my MTWBWY ladies, is primarily online and four of us who live relatively close together do a retreat once a year as well as see each other at conferences (like BookExpo America). MTWBWY is made up of four primarily YA writers, one YA/NA writer (me), and one primarily romance writer (historical/NA). All of us have Other Day Jobs. All of us are women.

The other was an in person group that met several times a month at a local Barnes & Noble where we’d read pieces aloud and critique them. There were a mix of literary forms, not just categories/genres. One person writes primarily poetry with occasional short stories, four people (including myself) write novels, two people write short stories, novels, and poetry. Of the people in the group, two of the people who tackle novels wrote spec :. Two wrote YA (including me), and one wrote MG.

I left one of these groups, and stayed with the other, and you can tell by the tenses I used at the beginning of their paragraphs. I left the in person group. After nearly two years in both groups (I joined them within the same couple of weeks), I have a few ideas on the makeup of a successful writing group.

You do not get to pick your readers, but you do get to pick your critique partners and writing group members. Choose wisely.

A Successful Writing Group…

  • has a written set of guidelines that everyone agrees upon. This helps make sure that everyone feels like they’re getting the most out of a group and that in a group where people are at different stages in their careers, everyone’s needs are being met in a respectful way.
  • checks egos at the door. We’re all in a writing group to become better writers. This requires leaving egos at the door. One overblown ego can destroy a group. Corollary! Pack your prejudices at the door. I don’t read crime fiction, but for a writing group member I would. Similarly, as the writer of Young Adult fiction and Romance novels, I expect my work to be given the same respect as something that isn’t genre or written for teens.
  • reads their work aloud (if in person). Reading aloud has a couple of benefits. First, you find all of the weaknesses in your prose. Repeated words that you missed during your edits and run-on sentences will jump out at you when you read them aloud. Additionally, you are getting a reader/listener’s first reaction just like you’d get from a ‘real reader’, not a CP. The first reaction tells a reader if they’re reading on or if they’re putting a book down. This is vital information for you.
  • should be made of writers with similar goals. If not everyone in the group wants to be published (either traditionally or self-published, though I’d argue that a lone SP or TP path author might feel uncomfortable in a group dominated by the other path), then the group’s varying views are going to affect critique, turnaround time for manuscripts, and (needed) discussions about publishing questions including queries, submission, agents, or anything else.
  • should be made of writers writing in the same format. It doesn’t have to be the same genre and I think there’s a great deal of benefit to writing with writers from other genres. But I do think everyone in a group should be a novelist, or a short story writer, or a poet. The needs of each of these forms become too conflicting in the same group.

I’m a happier writer for having left the in-person group. I’m glad to have writing friends, both in person and online, who respect what I write, who I am, and push me to be the best writer I can be. I highly recommend writing groups for most writers (though not all!) and I hope these little suggestions help you form your own group.

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