The best thing I ever did for my writing was to join a writers group. When I relocated from Chicago to Charleston, SC, I bumped into a local group that turned out to be a newly formed chapter of the South Carolina Writers Workshop! I was enthralled by the mix of talent and the eagerness of each of the members to help the others.
Years later, I’m still a huge fan of SCWW and keep in touch with many of its members. In fact, several of us still gather to share each other’s writing journeys, with congratulations when the feedback is good, whether from a contest or an agent’s input, and with commiseration when the feedback’s not so great. And I know I speak for us all when I say that if one of us is going to put a piece of work out on the street, we want the eyes of our fellow BGs on it first. I’m ever grateful and in awe of the generosity of spirit within this group. For those of you already thriving in a great SCWW chapter, you know what I mean; writers really do rock!
As so many authors will tell you, there’s tremendous value and joy in belonging to an established writers group. Writers can encourage each other, help each other keep to deadlines, critique each other’s work, exchange marketing ideas, pick each other up when we fall into a slump, and be an overall support system. Writing is a solitary activity; writing groups can put a whole team in your corner.
Here then are three tips for getting the most out of your group:
1. Pick Your Focus
The more narrowly you define the scope for your writers group, the better chance you’ll have of attracting and nurturing the members that will serve each other best. Typically this is broken down by non-fiction vs. fiction writers, but it can also be by genre (romance and mystery writers have plenty of groups, for instance). Or you may choose your group based on similar skill levels or needs. Beginning novelists may spend more time discussing general aspects of the craft. Advanced writers may spend more time honing final manuscripts or networking for marketing purposes. Within your SCWW chapter, you may have two or three “sub-groups” that can best help each other, and offer up the best chance for each to have input when you gather together.
2. Let Group Members Know What’s Expected of Each
Nothing will destroy a good group faster than negative Nellies, or folks who won’t pipe up at all for fear of offending someone. You want writers who are able to both give and receive genuine advice and support, fellow writers with a pro-active outlook and the willingness to hone their craft and become better. Your writers group should be a “safe space” where each of you can bring your work for honest assessment, and know that any criticism given is out of mutual respect and a sincere desire to help each other make the work better.
3. Set Some Rules to Remain Productive
In our own group, we decide some time before the next meeting who the focus might need to be on, or if several of us have something to share. Sometimes someone needs attention for their full manuscript and so we schedule a meeting devoted just to them. Groups typically will submit between one and five thousand words, and it’s more productive if you assign a deadline at least five days in advance so members have time to read and think about the work. It’s also great to take the last five or ten minutes of the meeting to set the next date, and to ask each member for their goals for the next meeting so you can help each other stay on track.
By the way, this works once you’re published, too. Gather your group to help cross-promote your work, set marketing goals, or divvy up the costs of a booth at a book fest… The sky’s the limit!
Creator of Where Writers Win, Shari Stauch has been involved in publishing, marketing and PR for 30 years. She is also the principal author of the WWW blog, and speaks at conferences around the country. The Where Writers Win team’s newest collaboration is The Winner Circle – vetted book review directories, book clubs and other cultivated resources for emerging authors. http://writerswin.com/