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.


The Creative Cycle

I don’t know about you, but 2016 left me with several serious dry seasons when it came to creative juices flowing.

Sometimes, for our mental, emotional, or physical health, we need to take a break.

Absorbing information, researching, and being entertained are all parts of the ten steps for writing a novel.

I once wrote that there’s no such thing as writer’s block—you’re just not writing. I still think that’s true. Last month, my family got a new Windows tablet that is pretty much 98% useless. The other 2% is the solitaire games I haven’t played since I switched to MacBooks my freshman year in college.

This has a point, I swear. Have you ever played Freecell? It’s a solitaire game in which very few deals are unsolvable. Playing Freecell is even easier on the computer, because you can use the undo button to back up indefinitely. Since I started playing again, I haven’t played a game I couldn’t beat, even if I had to back up a hundred steps before moving forward again.

Sometimes writing is like that. You get to a point that seems impassable, and sure—maybe it is impassable—but most of the time, you can either back up and try again, or you can cheat your way through. Throw in some extra cards. Let a toddler trample through your game. (These latter two scenarios are only recommended metaphorically or with real cards. Don’t let your toddler trample on your computer or tablet.)

Stuck in your story? Try to write yourself out. Write everything that couldn’t happen, and figure out a possibility through the process of elimination. Getting stuck isn’t always bad. In fact, if you don’t know how you’ll get your characters out of a sticky situation, neither will your reader. You’ll surprise everyone when you come up with a solution. That’s better than having a story that is predictable.

Sometimes, though, it’s not your story that’s the problem. Sometimes it’s not writer’s block, it’s human’s block. Maybe you were overwhelmed by international politics. Maybe you’re a wreck because your mom just died. Maybe you lost your job and aren’t sure how to make ends meet.

Sometimes we just need to survive before we can thrive.

If you’re in that spot, you’re not alone. Do whatever you need to do to be safe and healthy. Don’t let creative guilt make you feel worse. Tell that guilt to zip it until it can be properly motivating instead of devastating.

Then, once you’ve got survival down, or when you’ve gotten enough help that you can start living again, ease back into ideation and creativity.

Chase inspiration down a rabbit hole like Wikipedia.

Lara reading about every unsolved murder since 1880 on Wikipedia

Write down things you observe.

Record the weirdest questions and fascinations you can think of.

Consume your favorite art and stories to remind you why you want to create in the first place. (I recommend Hamilton for entertainment, inspiration, awe, and catharsis.)

Know which sensory techniques work for you so you can better calm yourself in the future (the following are just a start):

  • How about touch, like rubbing a smooth stone or squeezing a stress ball?
  • How about wrapping yourself tightly under your covers?
  • How about tasting something salty or sweet or sour?
  • How about looking at certain colors or photos of loved ones?
  • How about going for a run?
  • How about taking a hot or cold shower?
  • How about listening to chill or angry music?
  • How about smelling certain scents?
  • How about hearing some variety of white noise?

And when you feel ready, start writing.

Writing Woes: Nonlinear Storytelling


There are two primary ways to tell a story: linear and nonlinear.

While a linear, or chronological, narrative is certainly the most common way readers (or watchers and listeners) experience a story, nonlinear is certainly essential to certain stories, films, and TV shows throughout history and even pop culture. For example, Wuthering Heights, All the Light We Cannot See, Station Eleven, Pulp Fiction, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, How I Met Your Mother, and Arrested Development all rallied around a nonlinear structure, which further enhanced the story and plot.

I’m currently reading a nonlinear young adult novel. While I believe the author is very talented, I think this story structure is confusing at best. She alternates not only timeframes—differentiated with simple “then” and “now” subheadings at the beginning of each chapter—but she also alternates between two narrators.

This poses particular problems for me, as both timelines are ambiguous with minor narrative clues as to how much time has passed. Each chapter is comprised of multiple smaller scenes that may also jump days or weeks. Additionally, some chapters are simply retold from the perspective of the other character, which only adds to the confusion.

If your story poses complex narrative structure, I recommend the following for your consideration:

  1. Clearly label your narrative, and if necessary, use dates. While tedious at times, dates at the beginning of a chapter can certainly clue the reader in as to when they’re entering a narrative. I recommend using dates especially if significant periods of time are passing, and/or if timelines are in anyway overlapping. The Night Circus is a great example of a novel that successfully moved around time and used dates to ground the reader.
  2. One timeline should always be linear. Yes, I’m sure there are exceptions, but as general rule, if two or more storylines are moving throughout time, one story line should always move linearly to help guide and ground the audience. Once Upon a Time is a great example of this. As a TV show that consistently features two narratives, their present, “Storybrooke” timeline always moves forward, linearly in time, while their flashbacks move around in the past, throughout lands and decades.
  3. There must be a reason for including a nonlinear narrative. This storytelling method must be used as a hook, to reveal pieces of important information, create suspense, or foreshadow events. Gone Girl wouldn’t have been nearly as impactful without Flynn’s structured twists. Keeping it spoiler free, while the story itself moves forward chronologically, by revealing Amy’s narrative when she did, Flynn was able to not only create suspense, but also lead the readers through a journey of faith and doubt in Nick’s character and therefore, Amy’s mind.

Happy writing and Happy New Year! See you in 2017.

Writing Goals: The Gilmore Way

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“Oy, with the poodles already!”

It was the cry heard round the world. The fast-paced, quick-witted genius that was Gilmore Girls dialogue.

At that very phrase, millions of writers turn green with envy.

To write like Lorelei and Rory spoke.

I know what you’re thinking: “Yes! A how-to on dialogue worthy of Amy Sherman-Palladino.” Whelp. Sorry to disappoint, but if I knew how to write like Amy, I’d be a gazillionaire and wouldn’t be sharing my ticket to writing immortality with you all.

This, instead, is a tribute of sorts, a general musing of why a television show’s dialogue was revolutionary, and why—years later—it’s still known for it’s ground-breaking tendencies.


1. Laughter

It’s no secret the Gilmores were funny, nay—comical, hysterical, uproarious! Their wit knew no bounds! Yet—while Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel certainly played their parts stupendously—their humor was born behind a computer screen, created by a human brain a couple of neurons.

One strength the Gilmore writers used was to build humor around their character’s personalities. Lorelei used her love of bad movies and obscure musicians, Rory her love books and Stars Hallow translations, Lane her passion for rock and roll, and Emily for disdain of all things that didn’t come from Bergdorf’s.

Note that the writers didn’t feed Luke lines about Jane Austin or Sookie jokes on scotch. (At least, none that I can remember.) Their humor fit their experiences and interests.

2. Popular Culture

I once read an article that listed every single movie ever referenced in the seven seasons of Gilmore. Want to know how many are on that list? 463. Four-hundred-sixty-three! You could watch one a night and it would still take you a year-and-a-half to see them all!

So why bring up 463 movies? Why bring up pop culture at all? Pop culture certainly isn’t necessary, or even appropriate, in all books, but I think it does help your readers connect to your characters. Think of it this way—it’s something to further bond your readers with your characters. Example: “Lorelai loves Purple Rain and I love Purple Rain! I knew she was cool.” (True story.)

3. Pacing

If talking were an Olympic sport, the Gilmores would have gold. Apparently, one page of a script is approximately one minute of screen time. On Gilmore, one page of dialogue lasted 20-25 seconds. While this tidbit is very specific to scripts, I think it’s worth noting that fans noticed the fast-paced culture of the show that eventually became a trademark.

While this looks different in novels, I’ve often found I connect most with characters when I get caught up in scenes ripe with rapid banter. It’s in those scenes that they feel human and portray real response to real life situations.


So, now that you’re pumped about dialogue, you have two tasks to accomplish in this very particular order: Watch the Gilmore Girls revival on Friday and write till your heart’s content.

Oh, and pie! Eat some pie.