Musical Chairs: On Writing Groups
Last time on Mary’s Expression, I posted about a famous writing group, The Inklings. Since then, Anne has written about how to find your own creative tribe. Today, I’m going to share my own experiences with writing groups.
Finding a good writing group is hard. Joining a new group is like musical chairs. You’re circling, getting a feel of the music, the routine, when suddenly it stops and you have to find your bearings. If you find a space, you have a moment to see who’s around you, how you fit in with the group. But just as you get comfy, the music changes and things get shook up. And the group always seems to be shrinking. No matter how many new people come in, there’s always a good portion who just can’t find a seat, don’t quite fit in. I’ve been on both ends of this.
And what’s a good fit at one point in your life or career may not work for you later. So you have to learn not to blame yourself or the other members if a group simply isn’t working out. Sometimes it’s best just to move on. You can’t always predict who you’ll finally click with.
The first group I was really a part of was Writing.com. It’s not a true writer’s group per se, more of a community. There are plenty of other members to share your work with and get comments from. But it’s huge. The number of members is currently approaching one million. This makes it very hard to get noticed. To get the most out of it, you have to put the work in. Review other members, participate in contests and forums. There are specialized groups formed by members, some for discussion, or games, or critique. I think Writing.com’s best strength is getting feedback on shorter works, poetry or short stories. Downsides to sharing a novel on Writing.com:
- A free membership is limited portfolio space, so it would be better to upgrade
- Formatting isn’t as easy as copy and paste. Even the formatting codes are site-specific, not standard HTML, so it takes a lot of effort to get your chapter/book presentable
- The first chapter trap. With such a variety of members, it’s easy to get a lot of comments on your first couple chapters. Almost impossible to get feedback past chapter three unless you find a dedicated writing buddy or group. (Really, this is a drawback of most online groups.)
I’m still a member of Writing.com, but I don’t put the time into it that I used to. As I focused more on novels, I started looking elsewhere.
I’ve tried a few other online writing groups. Dreaming In Ink is one of the better. They are very strict on getting in regular critiques. This isn’t a bad thing, and has kept the group strong, but when circumstances came that I was no longer able to keep up, I moved on. Who knows, I may go back someday. They have a great system going for them.
For poetry, I was very lucky to be in at the start of this group, The Poetic Muselings.
Last year I started my own fantasy group, Society for Arcane Gibberish Authors (SAGA). We’re still fledgling, and open to new members. So if you write fantasy, and want a more casual group, check out SAGA.
One thing I’ve learned over the years, is that an online group has different dynamics and strengths than a local group. Online groups are great for the line edits, the nitty-gritty stuff. It’s super easy to mark up text and share with someone. But in-person groups are good for those moments you simply need to talk over a plot point, or brainstorm. I definitely recommend a local group or writing buddy. Even if you don’t critique each other’s work, talking with other writers is priceless.
When it comes to local groups, I’ve had a rough road. The challenge is finding people with the same skill and dedication. With my first group, only two of us wanted to write as a career, for the others it was a hobby. Since the dedication wasn’t there, the group eventually fell apart. With my current group, we’re struggling with scheduling so more people can come, and getting more members.
So whatever route you go, online or in person, there will be challenges and downfalls. Sometimes you have to hold your spot in musical chairs, and sometimes you have to give it up. And sometimes you have to hold on to each other and do your best not to fall off.
Do you have a good writing group? How long have you been together? If not, I wish you the best in finding one!
Next time on Mary’s Expression (March 5): Freeing creativity.