7 Ways Writing Community Can Go Wrong

There’s nothing quite like having a great group of writer friends. Who else gets you when you’re crying for your characters as you write them? Who else understands what it’s like to face the daunting task of revision? Writing community can be a really good thing.

Writing community can also go really wrong. If you try to start a writing group without putting thought into the goals and participants of that group, you might end up with something that will fall apart at best and be detrimental to the members’ writing at worst. If you’re going to connect with other writers, be careful and on guard against the following common pitfalls.

1. People are too nice.

Sometimes, writers give each other too many pats on the back. It’s important for the members of a writing group to encourage each other in their art, but not at the expense of quality. There may be many different styles of writing that can work, but a good group of writers will tell each other whether or not the way they’re using those tools does work. Constructive feedback is more important than positive feedback.

2. People are too mean.

Sometimes, writers take too much pleasure in tearing each other apart. This happens especially in workshops and other more academic settings. Critique partners or groups are quite helpful when a writer wants advice on how to strengthen their writing, but some people go too far. Instead of giving helpful feedback, they tear apart each others’ writing in a way that belittles instead of building up. Being critical of peers is only a good idea when it has a useful purpose.

3. People don’t write.

Sometimes, writers form a writing group without following through with consistent writing. They love the idea of being in a writing group, but they never put forth the work to make it constructive. One of two things quickly happens to this type of group: it falls apart as people drop out, or it becomes a social gathering. Social gatherings for people who love words are great, but if the members aren’t writing, it’s not a writing group and shouldn’t be mistaken for one.

4. People don’t read.

Sometimes, writers get excited about sharing their own work without showing any excitement for each other’s work. This creates a group where people are writing, but they’re not getting a lot of constructive help from their community. If everyone shows up for a writing group expecting feedback on their own work without paying attention to others’ writing, what happens? There’s nobody to read, so nobody actually gains. If nobody is willing to give, the group becomes meaningless.

5. People have conflicting goals.

Sometimes, writers don’t communicate their different ideas about what they want in writing community. When they come together, a conflict arises as everyone expects something different. One person might be expecting to give and receive detailed style advice, while another might simply want to exchange comments on overall big-picture elements. While both are valid ideas for a writing group, advice won’t be helpful if it’s not welcome. Writers should make sure they are clear about their expectations before exchanging their work. Otherwise, their conflicting goals will lead to frustrated results.

6. People have no goals.

Sometimes, writers come to a writing group without any plan or expectations. They know they want to be in a group of writers, but that’s about it. They expect that things will just fall into place naturally. While it’s good to be flexible and make changes based on what does or doesn’t work, there still needs to be a starting plan to give the group purpose. Writers with no goals or direction aren’t likely to get anything done.

7. People aren’t a good fit for each other’s needs.

Sometimes, writers won’t have enough experience or interest to comment on their peers’ work. People write in a variety of genres and styles, and not just anyone will give the best feedback to another writer. While any feedback can be helpful, the best feedback comes from someone who reads, understands, and preferably writes what they’re critiquing, whether it’s poetry, nonfiction, or one of many specific fiction genres. If a reader doesn’t know a genre, they’re not going to be able to give helpful tips on genre-specific needs.

Make it work!

This all may sound like a lot of negativity, but it serves two purposes. The first is to help you stay out of the wrong groups. If you know what to watch out for, you’ll save yourself some time and frustration. The second purpose is to help you make your current community into a better one. If you love your writing clan but don’t love what you do or don’t do for each other, identifying your weaknesses can help you turn them into strengths.

Getting a productive writing group together can be tricky, but if it works out, it’s worth it. Even if it doesn’t work out, don’t give up on the community of other writers out there. Your fellow writers aren’t your competition—they’re your companions on this journey. Take the time to support and encourage each other whenever you get the chance, and you’ll quickly see how very right writing community can be. And guess what? The more writers you get to know, the more opportunities you’ll have to find that writing group that doesn’t go wrong.


Struggling writer? Listen to “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner.

I don’t watch the show “Mad Men,” but I was inspired when fellow MS Editor Lara Willard sent me an article by the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner.

His is a story that most writers and creatives can relate to: the need to write no matter what, coupled with years of rejection. He didn’t let it stop him; on the contrary, he says,  “Rejection enrages me, but that ‘I’ll show you!’ feeling is an extremely powerful motivator.”

I know that feeling. I had two “I’ll show you!” moments with college mentors, and both have stuck with me ever since. The first was my advisor, who told me straight-up, “You’ll never be assertive enough to be a freelancer.” When I got the taste of the work, though, of using what I knew about good writing to help other writers become better writers, I was hooked. I knew I had to prove her wrong, so I grew, I did the work, and I succeeded.

I got a chance to talk to that advisor the other day, and I told her that story. She told me that I hadn’t been assertive enough in college, but that she could tell that I had grown. We parted happily, and not until after she had told me that she was really, really happy to be wrong.

An “I’ll show you” moment also came up in my own creative writing. I’ve always loved to create using words, but the pressure to perform in college creative writing classes killed my storytelling almost completely. A teacher told me that the thing I wanted to create didn’t and couldn’t exist (side note: it does!), and I knew in that moment that it was going to be my life goal to prove her wrong, too. I wanted to write, and well. I wanted to create my specific thing, and  I wanted it to succeed.

I hope it does. While my journey as an editor is well underway, my journey as a writer is just beginning. Matthew Weiner has something to say about that, too:

“The most defeatist thing I hear is, ‘I’m going to give it a couple of years.’ You can’t set a clock for yourself. If you do, you are not a writer. You should want it so badly that you don’t have a choice. You have to commit for the long haul. There’s no shame in being a starving artist. Get a day job, but don’t get too good at it. It will take you away from your writing.”

My “day job” is editing now, and I do want to stay “too good” at it. Having said that, I am working to set aside time in my days for creative writing. It’s not just the “I’ll show you!” feeling motivating me; it’s what I need to do.

I know that many of you are in that same boat. You’ve had people tell you that your writing just doesn’t cut it, or that your stories just don’t have a place in this market. You’ve received more rejection letters than you would care to admit, and you’re starting to wonder if you’ll ever make it. If that’s true, read Matthew Weiner’s full piece here. See how rough the journey to “Mad Men” was for him, and let him tell you why he stuck with it. Then, think about what it is that makes you stick with your work.

Don’t ever give up–if writing is who you are, it’s worth every ounce of struggle and work you put into it. As long as you’re writing, you’re succeeding at being who you have chosen to be.


5 reasons to stop writing and get outside (yes, in February!)


Yesterday was Groundhog Day, and Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow. According to tradition, that means spring is coming early!

It doesn’t exactly look like it yet. Here in the Midwest, a winter storm just dumped a foot of snow in less than 24 hours, and I know we’re not the only ones still seeing white.

Whether you live in a snowy place or just have cooler temps now than normal, the idea of winter is still present, begging you to curl up with a warm cup of tea or hot chocolate and read and write the short days away. That’s good! But it’s also good to get out of that cozy chair and step out the door, no matter what the weather is doing.

Do it right now. Take a break from that great novel you’re reading or writing, and get out there—the more uncomfortable the weather, the better! I promise that this is constructive, not just crazy. Check out these five reasons for getting out of the house and then make it happen.

1: Give your eyes a break.

If winter means that all of your non-work hours are going into reading, writing, and Netflix, you’re putting a lot of strain on your eyes. Don’t take them for granted! Even with glasses, I’ve found that too much time spent in front of a screen gives me eye pain, headaches, and increased irritability. It will do your head wonders to get outside, where you can let your eyes adjust to better lighting and a greater range of focal points.

2: Give your circulation a boost.

Sitting for long periods is not good for your circulation, and that little twinge in your hand or leg isn’t going to just go away on its own. Winter encourages us all to embrace hibernation, but this arrangement can wreak havoc on your system! Unlike Phil, you are not a groundhog. Running up and down the stairs every half hour will help a little bit, but why not add some fresh air to the mix? Get your heart pumping, your lungs filling, and your limbs loosening, and things will hurt a lot less in the long run.

3: Shock your system.

If it’s really cold or snowy where you live, bite the bullet and get outside. If it’s only mildly colder than normal where you live, try stepping out the door in summer clothes. Either way, feel that winter air! It’s not going to be comfortable at first, but that’s the point. Embrace it. Shake up your routine. Get out of your comfort zone. By letting your body reset, you’ll also reset your mind and be ready to get back to work with a fresh look at what you’re doing. There’s nothing like freezing air or a cold rain to wake you up!

4: Live a new story.

Wherever you live, go experience February. What makes it different than August? How are the people around you spending the winter? What unique opportunities or challenges force you to change things up? You can’t write living characters unless you yourself are willing to inhabit the world around you. Go live. Make your own life a winter story, and use what you learn to become a better writer.

5: Take some photos.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. For writers, a picture can easily inspire a thousand words. Go outside and pay attention to the little visual details. How does the silhouette of a leafless tree seem to you? Are there bushes bent under the weight of ice and snow? What does it look like for city lights to shine over a frozen lake? What kind of dirty puddles does February produce? Take a photo log of what February looks like and save it—those details are the ones that make our world real, and you can use them to create reality in writing, too.

Do it now.

You can’t fool me; I know you’re on the internet right now. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be reading this post! It’s time to get offline and step out your door. What does February 3rd look like where you are? Describe it in the comments below, or tweet your pictures @ekbuege. I’ve posted mine below.

Remember, winter isn’t the time for readers and writers to quit living in the real world; it’s the time for us to remember just how important it is.


5 Tips for a Great Relationship with Your Freelance Editor

reaching outSo you’ve decided to work with a freelance editor on your book. Congratulations on taking the leap! If all goes well, you’ll wind up with not only a stronger manuscript and cleaner writing but also with a long-term partner for your current and future projects.

How do you make sure all goes well? Even if you’ve checked the editor’s experience, abilities, and compatibility for your project, how can you take that relationship from good to great? While relationships are two-sided and will also require some effort on the editor’s part, there are several constructive things you can do as you interact with your editor.

  1. Understand the terms ahead of time.

Misunderstandings are a huge strain on the writer-editor relationship, so do your part to make sure they don’t happen. Read the editor’s website and contract carefully before entering into an agreement. If they say something is required, it’s required. If they don’t say they’ll do specific tasks for you, like ghostwriting or formatting, that means they probably don’t do those parts of the process.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions ahead of time to make sure you’re on the same page. Your editor will be happy to clarify their policies, and you’ll get the chance to ask for your specific needs to be met and make sure they’re possible and expected.

  1. If you need more work done, pay more.

At the beginning of the editing job, you and your editor will agree on a specific price for a specific amount of work, whether that’s an hourly or flat rate. If, after the editor completes the work, you decide you need a little more advice or edits of updated portions of the book, don’t ask them to work pro bono on those extra hours. Some editors will allow for multiple rounds of revision or coaching, but remember point #1: you need to make sure it’s in the terms of your agreement ahead of time.

A good editor loves their job and wants to give you the best possible value on the work you’re paying them to do. Don’t stress them out by forcing them to choose between having to tell you “no” and losing work time that they could have put on the clock elsewhere.

  1. Trust your editor’s advice.

Ideally, you took the time to check out your editor’s credentials before you hired them. Do they have proper training and knowledge to help develop your book? Do they understand grammar, punctuation, and the specifics of a style manual well enough to give you a quality copyedit? Did you talk with them about your project and get a sample edit done to make sure they can deliver what they said they’ll deliver? If so, trust that they know what they’re doing.

One of the more frustrating things that happens to an editor is that an author hires them to improve their book and then doesn’t let them actually improve it. If your editor says the organization of your chapters isn’t clear, don’t tell them it’s “good enough” just because you don’t want to change it. Ask questions. Learn. Understand what they see, and then decide how to make use of it. In the same way, if you know they understand their style manual, don’t flip out at their corrections of your comma usage or parallelism. If something sounds strange, ask—a good editor will be able to point you to the rules they’re following.

You hired this editor because you believe they’re an expert; trust them to truly be that expert.

  1. Don’t make demands.

You retain all rights to your book; your editor retains all rights to their own time and processes. You’re coming to them as a client, not as an employer, so what you’re paying for is a service, not the right to be their boss. If there is a certain way you would like things done, it’s important to—you guessed it—mention it ahead of time! Good freelance editors are a friendly, helpful bunch on the whole, so there’s a fair chance they can work it in.

If they tell you “no” because something you’re hoping for goes against their policies or procedures, don’t conclude that they’re being unreasonable. They’re just doing what’s best for their business and clients as a whole, and a client who tells them how to do what they do isn’t going to help anything—or get any results. If it’s vital to you to find an editor who will chat via phone or edit using a specific program, don’t get upset at the ones who don’t—they’re not doing anything wrong. Simply look for one who does.

  1. Share your vision.

Why does your editor do what they do? If you’re not sure, ask them—they’ll likely be excited to share their passion. What you’ll discover in most good freelancers is a love for story and language and a commitment to come alongside authors to make their work the best it can be.

We want to partner with you! As you begin a job with an editor, whether they’re coaching you on your story or copyediting your late draft, share your vision. Tell your editor why you’re writing what you’re writing, what excites you about it, and how you picture the end result. Your love for and your commitment to your project will be contagious, and once your editor catches that vision and excitement, your book will have gained a partner for life.

It’s a relationship.

The way a writer and their editor interact is a relationship, and like all relationships, a strong one takes time and effort. When you put the time into sharing your vision, respecting your editor’s time and knowledge, and double-checking expectations ahead of time, that effort won’t go unnoticed.

As a freelance editor, if I see you acting that way as a writer, I’m going to return your respect and commitment to this partnership. I will answer your questions, get excited about your book, cut no corners in the advice and corrections I give you, and do my best to make the process smooth and convenient for you.

Your book is your baby, and a good editor is going to come alongside you to help it grow into a strong, healthy manuscript. To build up the writer-editor relationship from good to great, encourage an environment of trust and respect by implementing the five tips above. Your editor, if they’re worth anything at all, will reciprocate with their own time and attention. There will be much less stress in the process, and both you and your editor will be happier and healthier for it.