Monday, August 22, 2011
On the importance of joining a writers group
Whenever I talk to writers I ask if they belong to a writing group. I am amazed that, most of the time, the person responds with 'no'.
Sometimes it's a horrified 'no', and I feel as though I've asked them whether they run a dog fighting ring in their basement. Sometimes it's a guilty no, as though they're confessing to not eating their broccoli or reading the latest James Patterson thriller (I feel I should mention that I've read one or two; I tell myself it's research).
Being the curious person that I am (in both senses of the word) I ask them, 'why not?' The horrified ones are usually afraid someone will give them negative feedback and they'll get writers block and the guilty ones feel that they should belong to a writers group because all serious writers do and it would be a great way to make contacts but they don't feel their work is quite up to snuff yet. They want to hold off joining one until they're just a wee bit better, until they've had a chance to give their stories one more polish.
I realize that what a writers group does for me may be very different from what it does or will do for anyone else, and that different people want different things out of writers groups, but, still, I think that both these groups of people have missed the point. I think that the single most important function of a writers group for the beginning writer is to let them know that other people take your work seriously enough to not only spend their precious time reading it, but to give you their honest thoughts about it. In my experience honesty tempered by kindness is a rare thing but that is what I have found in my writers group.
To the horrified writers I want to say that seeing your story through the lens of another's soul is worth the occasional sobering comment, and to the shy writers I want to say that joining a writers group is about agreeing to work together to help each other become better writers -- or something like that. Please don't hold off until you feel that your work is good enough, a writers group is just what you need to help you hone it. In the end, we write for ourselves but we also write for readers. Knowing what other people think of my writing has been an enormous help.
So, if you're a writer near the beginning of your career and you're not part of a writing group, what are you waiting for? Join one!
Caveat: I'm lucky to belong to a writers group that is a good fit for me. Some say that belonging to a writers group that is NOT a good fit for you is worse than not belonging to a group at all. Personally, I think that -- especially with the internet -- there is a group out there for every writer, it just might take awhile to find one that is a good fit for you. Don't give up.