On Writing Groups

On Writing Groups

Over the years, I’ve been a member of a number of writing groups that provide me with understanding, support, and most important, feedback on my work. Feedback helps me notice places to improve my writing that I’m too close to see myself.

If you’re looking for feedback, you could try a writers group. Ideally, the members would be writers who are at the same level or above you in skill. They’d be kind and aim to make one another better writers, but they’d also be able to see and tell you about flaws in your work.

People sometimes ask how to find a writing group, and the best answer I can give is to hang out where writers are. That can be online, in classes, or at conferences.

Online

Because I write fantasy, I early on found the Online Writing Workshop. You post a story or chapter and other members critique it. There’s a small membership fee, but you “pay” for the crits you get by giving some. The quality of writing and critting varies, but I found it useful, and after a while, a woman I knew there invited a half-dozen of us to join a spin-off online group for novel writers.

Novels present a particular problem for critting because they’re so long. It’s hard to ask anyone to read 80K words. In the OWW, you did it chapter by chapter, which was useful, but critters couldn’t see whole book issues such as pacing or character development. This spin-off group allowed you to submit an entire novel at one time. The group was small enough that the amount of work wasn’t burdensome.

I liked this group and got a lot from it, but after a while, it felt as if I was giving and getting the same crits over and over. I’ve since found this is common in writing groups. I know I commit the same writing sins over and over. Maybe most people do.

A second online group I joined was Absolute Write. This is a site for writers of all genres. It’s mostly a place to get advice, chat, and support other writers, but once you develop relationships in this group, you can often ask someone if they’ll read for you. As with OWW, someone from AW eventually organized a more private, invitation-only group that I’ve since found very supportive.

Face-to-Face

Another place I’ve found writers is in classes. The local art center in my town ran an 8-week class for $45. I figured I couldn’t go wrong at that price. I found a nice group of people, mostly hobby writers, who wrote a variety of genres with a range of skill. We brought pages each week for one another to take home, read, and talk about the next week. With a little prodding, they turned out to be good readers who gave me their honest reactions to the chapters they read. I liked this group and was sorry when the art center stopped running the class.

I recently moved and it turns out a writing workshop meets in the library next door to my building. This workshop has been meeting weekly for something like thirty years. Anyone can join for a small fee, and these people turned out to be good writers and critters. It’s the first group I’ve belonged to that didn’t submit pages ahead of time but read them aloud for on-the-spot feedback.

Last September, I published The Wind Reader with Inspired Quill. That book features three street kids with one of them, Doniver, serving as the point of view. Inspired Quill also has a book about a second kid, Jarka, that they’ll bring out in late 2020. My current writing group is helping me work through the book about Dilly, the third kid, and boy, am I grateful.

Conferences

Writers also hang out at conferences, some of which run workshops as part of the event. I attended one at WisCon several years ago, got feedback there, and was eventually invited to join a crit group the workshop leader belonged to. This group’s members were great writers, but eventually we kind of burned out, partly because we lived far apart and could meet only once a month at most.

How have you found feedback for your work? Or maybe you’re not a writer but enjoy analyzing and critiquing writing on a review blog? How do giving and getting feedback work for you?


Finders Keepers (Zharmae 2015) by Dorothy A. Winsor is available in e-book and paperback.
Amazon      Barnes and Noble      Indiebound

Earthquakes? Fires? Plague? Twelve-year-old Cade tries to ignore how they’re increasing as the new year approaches while he and his sixteen-year-old brother search for their missing mother. But there comes a moment when he has to choose who or what he’s going to save.

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11 thoughts on “On Writing Groups

  1. I’ve joined two writing groups, one is a traditional critique group, the other is a ‘business of writing’ group. Both have been valuable. The critique group has been especially helpful-I write military suspense novels (I’m former Navy) but very few people nowadays have military experience. The critiques help ensure my writing is understandable to a non-military audience.

    1. That’s a really good point. When I was part of the art center group, I was the only fantasy writer. My fellow writers were sharp, but puzzled by some fantasy conventions. They showed me what I needed to do to write to a little wider audience.

    2. One member of a current group I belong to is Rick Campbell who is ex-Navy and writes submarine thrillers that remind me of Tom Clancy.

  2. I’m also ex-military, Korea and Vietnam in the 60’s, and I also have a mixture of experiences in the “counterculture”. My friends love my stories and my recollection of events and think I need to write but I swore my dissertation would be the last book I wrote! Now as I look at retirement I wonder if I should give it a whirl?

    1. I took up writing fiction late in life, mostly because I enjoy doing it. To me, that’s the best reason because it depends only on you, not on outside events (like a publisher accepting your manuscript) that are hard to control. But your experiences are pretty unusual and you’re a good story teller, and you can always self publish if publishers are too stupid to acquire you. You’ve earned the right to do it if you like and stop or do something else if it makes you happier.

      1. Aw thanks! I looked and there is at least one group here in Athens. They looked pretty young but I guess that doesn’t matter.

  3. I’m taking a winter hiatus (and the weather has made that a good choice) from my weekly face-to-face writing group. The group was useful for me in completing my first novel primarily because of the pressure to have a chapter ready to submit when it was my turn. However, the short-story writers get repeated feedback on their stuff as they write and rewrite; they can really hone a piece. Those us of writing novels receive critiques of more limited value, as you note (although we become practiced in writing synopses!).

    Two or three of us who are working on long-form fiction have thought of meeting separately. Do you have any tips on how to structure the meetings and/or submissions? I probably couldn’t commit to reading and providing detailed feedback on an entire novel in a week (while working full time, writing my own stuff, and trying to read in and outside my genre). And it might be good to get feedback before the novel is completely written. Would something like critiquing 10 chapters each for two people work? Is weekly too often?

    1. I’ve participated in this in two different ways.

      1. The group that met at most monthly tooks subs of 30-40 double spaced pages. You subbed if you wanted to. Sometimes we called meetings because people had stuff to sub. You sent it ahead of time over email. We didn’t read aloud there. I never wound up subbing the full book there because it took too long. For that, I contacted people I knew elsewhere and asked them to read the whole thing when they could. People will often do that as part of a trade.

      2. The novel writing group that broke off from Absolute Write let you send the whole novel to the group when you were ready. There were maybe 5 of us and we’d get a sub every couple of months. We never met face to face, just sent written feedback whenever we’d finished the crit. That could sometimes take someone a month if they were busy. We were allowed to submit a book only twice–ie we could resubmit after one set of crits and feedback. I never did that. I just took the crits and used them.

      I got useful feedback both ways. But then, as you probably know, almost any feedback is useful. Problems that get identified in one chapter, crop up in another too. I’m reading my current novel to the group I’m in now, but the way they work means it’s very spread out. I’ve been a member since September and tomorrow night, I’m reading Chapter 3.

      If you’ve got people who all have big chunks written, you could probably set a weekly or bi-weekly meeting and do ten chapters or some page or word limit for two or three of you. You’d only be critting two at the most because you wouldn’t be doing your own. You could try it out and see how it works. I’d be interested in hearing how it goes if you do.

  4. Thank you for this article, Dorothy! I have a fabulous long-standing critique group of the most inspirational, thoughtful people on the planet, but I live over 8 hours away from them now. They still meet in person and read/give instant feedback, and boy, do I miss that kind of personal interaction.
    Nowadays, I send things to them over email, but I think online critiques aren’t as informative. I’ve also sent two ms’s to paid critiquers which have been helpful but not as in-depth as the price called for, ha ha.
    Thanks for pointing out some other places to check out!

    1. I remember that you have people in Michigan, I think. They sound incredibly valuable.

      I really do miss the Hearst Center.

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