Writers’ groups

My writers’ group met for its pre-Christmas session this week, and a wonderful evening it was at Cathy Dunphy’s beautiful home. The six of us wined and dined, and exchanged small gifts. And then we managed to critique an amazing amount of writing in front of Cathy’s fireplace.

I’ve been a member of this group of published and pre-published fiction writers for several years. We meet once a month, and email our pages to one another well in advance of the meeting. This gives me a much-needed deadline. As a journalist, I’ve always worked to deadlines, and when I began writing fiction I realized that I needed a date on the calendar to work towards or I’d never get anything done.

I know writers who’ve tried the group approach and found it wasn’t for them. But I’m a big believer in getting the input of other writers. At this last meeting, one writer came up with solution to a problem I’d been wrestling with in my work-in-progress. Another pointed out an inconsistency. Valuable advice.

If you’re interested in forming a writers’ group, I suggest taking a creative writing course or a workshop geared to your particular genre. By the end of it, you’ll have met a number of other writers and read some of their work. Ask a few of them about getting together to critique one another’s work. That’s how my first writers’ group formed.

Another writer I know started her group by posting a notice on her local public library’s bulletin board.

My current group was already up and running when I joined it on the invitation of fellow Sisters in Crime members.

Numbers are important. My first writers’ group fell apart because we only had three members. When one writer moved across the country, that group was toast. Two people just don’t cut it as a writers’ group.

My current group has six members, and I think that’s the largest a writers’ group should be. Each reader presents her thoughts on the work that each writer has submitted, so if all six members have written that month, the meeting can be a long one. That’s when you need a take-charge individual to chair the meeting and keep each reader to a strict schedule of, say, ten minutes.

Some rules need to be made when the group is formed and they have to be conveyed to all newcomers. Criticism must be constructive. And the writer is ultimately the one who decides which suggestions to follow and which to ignore.

You may find yourself with other writers with whom you don’t feel comfortable. One or more of them may be ultra-critical, even overbearing. You may decide that the positive feedback from the other members makes up for the negative comments. But if you feel you can’t work this group, leave it and look for another.

Believe in yourself, and give your writing skills the time and nurturing they need to develop.


About rosemarymccracken

Rosemary McCracken is a Toronto-based journalist and fiction writer.
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