You don’t have to join a writer’s group to be a successful author. But having a writer’s group is kind of like having a computer.
Bold simile, I know. Allow me to explain.
Technically, you don’t need a computer to be a successful author. There are other ways of getting the job done. You could compose on your typewriter or write by hand and pay someone to type it for you. Or you could dictate your work into a recording app and have it transcribed. Maybe you could hire someone else with a computer to do the work for you.
You could, but why would you do that to yourself? Having a computer allows you to write and publish your book more quickly and easily. So does having a writer’s group.
See, I made the simile work.
3 Reasons Why You Should Join A Writer’s Group
What you get out of a writer’s group depends partly on the other members, and partly on how much you’re willing to put into it. But there are a few great reasons why you should join a writer’s group.
1. You get to hang out with other writers
Being a writer can be lonely. The work of writing a book happens when you’re alone. Your friends and family, much as they love you, may not understand what you’re up to. And if even they’re super supportive, their eyes tend to glaze over when you start talking about the intricacies of plot. Writer’s surround you with people who actually enjoy those conversations and don’t think you’re insane for complaining about how a fictional person won’t do what they’re told.
2. Get early feedback on your writing
Again, friends and family may enjoy reading your work. They may be supportive, but most probably don’t know anything about how to write a book or structure a story. When you have a writer’s group, you have a pool of first readers who can work with you scene-by-scene or chapter-by-chapter to refine your work.
3. Accountability, writer’s write!
Writer’s Groups encourage you to share your work. Before you can do that, you need to do the work. When you’re bogged down halfway through a novel, it’s easy to feel like no one cares whether you finish or not. This is especially true if you haven’t published before and don’t have fans waiting for your next book. Having other people who know your story, and are eager to read the next chapter can help keep you motivated.
Can you get all of three of these things from other sources? Sure. I’m not saying you have to join a writer’s group to be a successful author. I’m just saying you might want to check out your options. Speaking of which…
Different Kinds of Writer’s Groups
Like computers, writer’s groups come in multiple varieties to match your needs and lifestyle.
Writer’s Critique Groups
My favorite style of writer’s groups, critique groups allow you to share your work with other writers and get thoughtful feedback. Usually you’ll be asked to send your work to the organizer ahead of time so the group has a few days to read and reflect before offering feedback. These groups can be hard on the ego, since you’re getting a lot of critique at the same time. Good management is the key to making sure everyone gets useful and constructive feedback.
A subtype of critique group in which writers read their work aloud and receive feedback in the moment. This can be useful if your listeners really pay attention, but it doesn’t allow much time for reflection. Some authors also get nervous reading their work out loud, especially in a draft format. Keep in mind that author events often include a reading from the author. If you intend to publish, this might be a skill worth practicing.
Writer’s Workshop Groups
These groups may focus more on learning the craft. They may include regularly scheduled workshops or focused writing sessions. Because they may bring in guest speakers, these workshop groups are more likely to charge for membership. They also tend to have more rigid structures and rules than other types of groups.
If you don’t want to be lonely while writing, this type of group is for you. Writers gather together to work on their individual projects. There’s usually time to chat before and after. Sometimes you’ll do writing sprints or other challenges that encourage you to write faster or incorporate particular elements into your work. Ideal for getting words on the page, these groups may not offer feedback.
Especially handy if you tend to write in a genre like fantasy, sci-fi, horror or romance. These groups are full of people who read and write those genres. That means they’ll understand the tropes and will give you feedback that makes sense for the genre. For example, I was once in a general writing group with someone writing high fantasy. One of the group members said, “I don’t understand, what is a glamor?” That didn’t happen in the Fantasy and Sci-Fi writer’s group.
These groups tend to pop up around the end of October, right before National Novel Writing Month. Sometimes they disband after the challenge of writing a novel in the month of November. Sometimes they stick together, or splinter into smaller groups in the off-season. Most NaNo groups focus on writing rather than critique so show up prepared to write.
Virtual Writer’s Groups
These groups meet exclusively online and can overlap with any of the other types of groups listed. You can have a genre-specific online group or a writer’s workshop online group. Personally, I struggle with this type of meeting because it’s harder to have a conversation. However, they became really popular during the pandemic. They’re also ideal for people who can’t find a local group that meets their needs.
To choose the writer’s group that works for you, think about how you like to communicate, what kind of help you need, genre, cost, distance, and when they meet.
What to Do If You Can’t Find One to Join
If you can’t find a writer’s group in your area (or can’t find one that meets your needs) start one! You might be surprised by how many writer’s live in your area and want to join a writer’s group. When I moved back to Maine after a few years away, I couldn’t find a writer’s group that was convenient for me. So I partnered with the Bangor Arts Exchange to start one.
Look for a local arts organization, indie bookstore, or coffee shop that will let you host your group. Your local library may also have space you can use. Then spread some flyers around town and some posts online. It really is that easy.
If you’re in the greater Bangor area, come check out Writer’s Group hosted by Launchpad. It’s run by me, a published author with three books. We are a diverse writer’s critique group that meets in-person on Thursdays at 6 p.m. Come hang check us out!