What is a writers group?
Well a writers groups or workshops come in many forms, but the idea behind them is the same. A writers group is a group of writers (yea no kidding the name sorta implies that). The group learns from each other, practices writing skills with each other, and share resources. The overall goal is to better the writing abilities of everyone in the group.
The fear of mockery, rejection, and stolen ideas
Before we talk about writers groups, I have to bring up why a lot of aspiring authors avoid them when they start out. Its not a good reason, but we all fear rejection and mockery. And new authors often think everyone is out for their ideas.
For years no one but my wife knew I wrote. I hid the fact I wrote as if I was part of some illegal underground organization. I would close all my blinds, darken the house, and then write. And if anyone saw me I would minimize the window and say I was just reading the news. That’s a little dramatized, just a little, but I hid it for one reason:
I didn’t want people to make fun of me. I had it in my head that people would laugh and say “You write! HA! That’s such a joke. Who does that?” or worse “You don’t have what it take so to be a writer.”
After I passed the fear of being mocked, I still worried I wasn’t good enough. Perhaps I wasn’t then, I don’t know. But, I do know that I will never know if I was good enough or not because I never shared with anyone else. A fear of rejection is natural, but if you can not face that fear you won’t do well in this business. Rejection is the name of the game when it comes to trying to get published. The reason is, every editor has a different style. The fact is, everyone has different tastes. I am sure you have read a book or two that was horrible, but your friends loved it. It suited their style and not yours. Same goes with our fellow authors and even editors. I don’t know of a single author that was published on the first try. It is just the name of the game. It doesn’t mean you are a bad writer, just that editor didn’t like that particular story. Writers groups help you work out the kinks in your writing so you become confident in your prose.
So now I told people I wrote, and expected rejection but was okay with it. I worried one of the people in a writers group would steal my ideas. There are many ideas out there, so odds are someone will think of something similar to yours.
I had a great idea for a story in which investigators were sent back in time to try to try and stop a terrorist attack from happening. Then three weeks later, as I was still trying to formulate the story in my mind, I see the previews for Source Code (2011). I cursed, yelled, and told my wife someone stole my idea. Truth is no one stole my idea. It just happened that they had a similar one. I still intend to tell my story, because I will tell it my way and therefore make the idea my own.
Of course, I would be lying if I said no one has ever completely stolen an entire story from someone else. Your writers groups should have strong rules against that. I am no expert of copyrights either, but I have been told your works are yours when you lay it on the paper. Stealing it is unacceptable, but it can happen. It hasn’t happened to me yet. I have, on the other hand, heard of very talented writers’ careers being ruined because they stole a story from another person and go it published. When it was discovered he stole the story he was effectively black listed as a writer. Not the best way to go about realizing your dreams of being published.
You will find that over 99.99999999999% (statistics not guaranteed to be accurate) of the authors out there want to be published for their own ideas, not yours.
Knowing all this it dawned on me: Worrying about someone stealing your ideas is a lot like worrying about death. You should do the correct things to protect yourself from it, but you can’t let it rule your life.
Why do you need a writers group?
So you are not scared anymore of rejection or mockery. But, you ask “Why do I even need a writer’s group?”
Well frankly you are not perfect. Sorry if that was a news flash, but none of us are. Writers groups give you a chance to learn from other people and them a chance to learn from you. Each member has something to offer the group. The group works together to learn something, prompt writing ideas, and look over each others work.
I have learned more from critiquing fellow writers works then getting my own works critiqued. I have also learned more from writers groups then I have from any of the writing books I have read. Don’t get me wrong the books are great but nothing beats practice.
Writers groups will share resources with you as well. It could be a good article they read, the opening of a new market, a good book to read, and much more.
To be a good writer, you need the help of other writers. Not just professional authors, but writers of all levels.
How to find a writers group
Writers groups come in many shapes and forms.
First, you have in person writers groups. These groups meet in person and usually follow some schedule. They may meet at the local library, the college campus, or Starbucks. Personally I prefer in person groups that meet some place quiet. Finding in person groups is easier then you might think. First, ask other writers in your local area about their groups. Check listings on websites for writers groups. But the best way I found was asking around the college or my local library.
Next, you have the forum type of writers groups. I have been a part of one for about a year. The biggest thing with these is it requires some discipline on you part. There is usually no scheduled meeting time, so you have to make sure you regularly participate. Otherwise you won’t get any benefit from them. We have a number of people who join our group (its fairly open to join), they post a segment of their writing for us to review, then we never hear from them again.
Last, and one I just recently tried, is what I will call an eGroup. Google+ is great for this, but it can be done in a variety of ways. This is where writers meet up virtually at a scheduled time. Web cam meetings are best, but it could simply be in a chat room. These work a lot like the in person groups do, just over the net.
The advantage to the forum and eGroup is that you can get people from all over the world. You would be amazed how the different perspectives of the world will help you write.
What to look for.
You need to look for a couple of things in a writers group before you join:
- Will this group be able to help you in your genre of writing? If you write SciFi like me, a romance novel group will do you little good.
- The group needs to have hard rules and someone should be designated the moderator. There has to be be rules that are understood by all members of the group. These include rules about how the time will be used, how critiques will be done, acceptable writing content, how much of any one work is allowed to be shared at a time (especially true of electronic forums because of first electronic rights ect), and other rules. It should be up to the moderator how to handle rule violators . There has to be rules.
- Is the group civilized? Critiques should be limited to the work in progress not each other. Any group that allows personal attacks on fellow writers should be avoided.
- Does the group’s schedule work for you? If you will miss a lot of meeting because they meet on a day that doesn’t always work for you, then you should find another group. If you have a schedule that in odd or fluctuates a lot, I suggest a forum group because you can sign on when you can. But remember you need to be on regularly.
- What does the group do with it’s time? Is this more of a research group that talks about the craft, or is it a group that spends most of its time writing? I suggest finding a balance between the two. Most follow a pattern of 15-30 minutes talk, followed by 45-60 minutes writing. They may repeat this a couple of times before a final discussion and calling it a day. With forums, the writing time is up to you.
- Are you comfortable there? If you are not comfortable with the writing group, you won’t learn much from it. Make sure these are people you are comfortable with, but not too comfortable either. If you are all friends it won’t work either. Which leads to my next topic:
When is it time to leave a group?
You should leave any group that attacks other writers or you become uncomfortable in. But you may also want to leave a group, or at least find other groups, if your group starts to become friends. Sure, you may still hang out and discuss writing. But friends eventually may not critique your work as hard as they should simply because they don’t want to hurt your feelings any more.
Think of it this way. Watch the try outs for American Idol or America’s Got Talent. They always show that singer who is horrid and makes you cry in desperation for it to end. What made them even think they could try out? That they were ready for big time? Their friends and family who where to afraid to break their hearts and say “YOU CAN’T SING, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF MAN KIND STOP SINGING!” Of course, a writers group will help you learn to be a better writer versus tell you to stop, but the point in the same. Family and friends will always soften the blow.
Don’t abandon the friends you make in these groups, but seek a second opinion if you feel friendships are effecting the critiques you get back.
In the end, writers groups are the most effective way I have found to share ideas and learn. I have never been disappointed with any group I have worked with. Your results may vary.