When you hit a wall or need to take a step back from your writing, you may think about joining a writing group. Critical feedback from a fresh pair of eyes can add perspective and new insight into your work. But are you really ready for all that a writing group entails? Ask yourself the following questions to find out:
1. What is the Goal for Your Project?
Writing groups are most effective when each member comes with a specific goal in mind.
Before sitting down with a writing group, ask yourself, “Why are you writing? Who is your audience? Do you want your writing published?”
Understanding what you aim to achieve helps your group members give precise, tailored feedback.
Let’s say you’re writing your memoir for your children. Already your group members know important aspects to consider while shaping their feedback:
- Since getting published isn’t your goal, they don’t need to factor in current publishing trends
- Because your memoir is for posterity, they need to make sure there are honest emotions and time-specific details in your piece
- Because your children are the audience, your voice or style can be quirkier without being distracting
If you wanted to publish a non-fiction book on haunted warehouses, the above list would be drastically different (unless your memoir is about owning haunted warehouses).
A writing group is typically structured to provide continual feedback on a long-term project like a novel or a dissertation. Unlike a workshop, it isn’t a one-time meeting for a few pointers. Come to your writing group with a goal in mind. Without a purpose for your project, the group will have little (or no) direction for their feedback, and it will be difficult for them to help you long-term.
2. Are You Willing to Feel Uncomfortable?
A writing group is not a support group. While you will definitely get support there, you should be prepared to get out of your comfort zone—specifically to give and receive constructive criticism.
A writing group actively looks for problems in your writing. They are the people who tell you that spinach is stuck in your teeth and that your breath smells. But that’s the point: they’re there to help you improve.
So sometimes you’ll get caught under the unpleasant cloud of honesty, and it will rain on you. Can you handle polite criticism without being crushed or getting defensive? Once you can control, or smother, those bothersome feelings, you’re open to collaboration that can mend and polish your writing.
Now flip the situation.
Can you point out problems in your group members’ writing? Your feedback can’t always be rainbows and puppies. If a member struggles with imagery and sense-of-place in their writing, then you should tell them. Skipping over the problem or lying only hurts their writing.
If you know the rope bridge is missing planks and has frayed ropes, you don’t tell someone that bridge is safe just to relieve their anxiety. That’s what passive-aggressive killers do. Do not passive-aggressively kill someone’s project. No one, at any point, should be cruel or rude, but polite honesty is necessary.
3. Are You Dedicated to the Group?
Before joining a group, be prepared to commit.
You and your group members are the only people who will hold you accountable. Your grade or paycheck doesn’t depend on completing your writing for each meeting. In fact, you could theoretically blow off meetings without any huge consequences.
But then your writing likely won’t improve. (And you risk ticking off your group members).
So carve out time to complete your writing and attend your meetings. If you treat your meetings as important, they will stay important.
You can take your writing to the next level with a writing group as long as you approach the group from the right mindset. Receiving and giving critical feedback can be exhausting. But if you answered ‘yes’ to all of the above questions, then you’re ready for the rigors of a writing group.
If you’ve participated in a writing group, tell us about your experience! Are there any other questions writers should consider before taking the plunge?