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Copyright Melanie Spiller 2011. Do not copy without permission.
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Writing Groups: Finding a Writers' Group

I was lucky. Someone I knew invited me to an existing group, and I was just exactly ready to ramp up my efforts on my travel guide. And the group was exactly what I was looking for in terms of skills and submissions from the others. In the case of the other group, someone from the local chapter of the historical novelists' society posted an ad that I answered.

 

Iíve seen ads on Craigslist (and other similar places) and there are organizations you can join, too. In my area (San Francisco), there are several companies that specialize in monitored writing. They have a place that you show up at the same time as the usual crowd, like a class. Instead of having a teacher or any sharing, everyone sits there and writes for the allotted time. Some people are really helped by the community of it, even if there isnít anyone reading what youíve written.

 

Classes are a good place to get feedback. You can take them at the local university or junior college, and adult education or continuing education often offer courses under the heading of ďcreative writing.Ē As I mentioned in the first blog about writersí groups, you are likely to find inexperienced writers if you do that, but perhaps that is appropriate for you, and better, you will connect with people who share your interest and can form your own group.

 

I have one friend who wants to exchange chapters. She needs a deadline and some sort of penalty (embarrassment, I guess) if she doesnít deliver. Sheís interested in feedback, but sheís more interested in just getting the words on the page and has trouble motivating herself to do that without a deadline imposed by someone other than herself. Sheís not in a position to commit to a weekday evening every week or even a regular weekend day, so she drops things in my email. I like to read them, but I donít always give her feedback. It depends on whether I think itíll fire her up or grind her to a halt.

 

I have another friend who posts to her blog (she writes mostly poetry), which is great for getting feedback from the general public, rather than a set of known contributors. Itís a one-way street, though. You never know what she does with the feedback.

 

I know of a group that formed at a coffee shop. Several people would sit in there pounding away on their keyboards. They seemed to all be on the same schedule, and someone breached the gap and asked if the others were working on novels. The rest, as they say, is history. I believe that they still meet in the coffee shop, but now they have a writing session and a feedback session every week.

 

Participant Profiles

My monthly group is quite varied in its participants. I would say that there are comparable skills all around the table, but our interests are very different. Two are writing mysteries, but one novel is distinctly creepy and the other, well, it isnít exactly cozy, but itís not a psychological thriller either. One writes about a certain time period in a certain place, all contemporary. There may be some political or social statements being made, but we are swept up in the story and may only see these when itís over. Another writes about sexual encounters or near-sexual encounters, but itís not erotica. Itís story lines with a lot of heavy breathing. Iím writing historical fiction and I previously woodshedded a travel guide with the same group.

 

The weekly group is strictly historical fiction. Two are writing about the same country about 300 years apart, two are writing about the same time period in different countries, and one is writing about a different country and about 1000 years earlier than anyone else. Two have contracts for their in-progress books, two are already in print somewhere, and one has a lot of things in print under other people's names.

The monthly groups has had essayists, travel guides (at least one other than mine), art criticism, self-help books, fantasy novels, and childrenís books. We apparently have some proscription against poetry (although I donít know why or where the sentiment came fromóit could just be tradition).

 

The factor that has been much the same among us all is that we are all actively writing, and for most of us, this is not our first book. A lot is learned by simply writing until itís finished, and whether you woodshed the drafts or the next revisions or start something completely new, experience is the common thread.

 

A couple of us write in our day jobs, although the subject matter is very different from what we bring to the group, and we often talk about how we keep fresh for our personal work. Several of us read about publishing, take classes on the craft, or attend conferences and workshops. We share what weíve learned at our meetings, and occasionally lend a book or set up a class. More than one of us is in more than one writing group.


We do spend some time commiserating about getting agents, writing cover letters or synopses, and the minutia of getting published. We do not spend time whining about finding time to write. No apologies are needed if all you do are the NTEs, and if youíve just finished something, so long as youíre still providing feedback, youíre still welcome.

 

People do bow out when they stop producing and they donít see a change in their habits coming soon. Several former members have finished their books and felt burned out, and didnít want to feel the monthly pressure to contribute, even though we werenít the ones supplying the pressure. A couple of people found it too intense, another had trouble with travel schedules, and so forth. A couple of people have moved away.

 

We donít know what happened to our mythical member who owns the NTE cards.

 

I hope he writes about his adventures, though.