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.