Among us we have a New York Time best-selling author, a writer with a two-book deal with a major publisher, two other writers with agents who are preparing their manuscripts to be offered to editors, myself and another writer with novels that were published last year, and several other writers with lots of short stories published in various journals. I tell you this not to brag. I tell you this because all of us got here because of each other.
I looked for what felt like forever for the right writing group to help me with my work. I joined lots of groups and I even started a few. None of them lasted, or at least didn’t last with me along. This group did. And when it started, none of us were where we are now. So here’s what I’ve learned along the way.
Find a group that takes it as seriously as you do. There was one group of people that I met in one of the very first writing classes I ever took. We formed a critique group very soon after the class. I loved them all dearly, but after about a year, I realized that to them this was a hobby and I was training for a new career. So I tearfully left after about a year to find a group that was as serious as I was about my writing. If you want to get better, you need to find writers who are better than you.
Wear your big girl/boy pants. I joined one group started by a friend who suddenly stopped coming to her own writing group. Worried, I contacted her and asked her why. She was upset about the critique another member had of her short story. She felt like it was too harsh. I had no idea what she was talking about. The critique was fair and had lots of good things to say as well as suggestions. I dropped out. Critique groups are there to help you get better. That means pointing out what’s not working. You have to be a grown up and take it, whether you agree with the critique or not. I can guarantee, an agent/editor/reviewer is going to be even more critical.
People have lives so be flexible and have more members that you need. Of all the people in the current formation of my beloved writing group, only a couple of people were in the group when I joined. People’s lives change. They have to focus on their day jobs for a while, or their families, or recovering from an illness. Things happen. Don’t be shy about recruiting new members. We have probably a dozen people in our group, but only 5-6 of us active at any one time. This is actually perfect. Just realize that to keep the group going, you may have to do some recruitment.
Have an organizer. Honestly, without Mary, we’d never get our act together to meet. Several people in our group have taken turns organizing us by setting dates, sending reminder emails about submitting, basically herding the cats. Mary is our current organizer and she’s fantastic. Without her, well, I don’t want to think of where we’d be.
Have only the best intentions. I’m big believer in you get back the energy you put out in the world. Last year, I saw a small independent film called Authors Anonymous. It’s a funny movie about a writing group and how jealousy tears it apart when one member is successful. I saw a lot of personalities in that movie that I’ve seen in writing workshops and classes over the years. What I don’t see is any of these loons in my writing group. When someone in my group tells me I need to change something in my work, I know that suggestion is coming from a pure place. We’re all there to help each other be successful. I may or may not take the suggestion and that’s OK. But helping others achieve their best work comes back go you when they help you.