February 6, 2012

How to Start, or Join a Writing Group: Written by David

In my last writing group related post, I talked about five strong reasons to join a writing group. If some of that advice appealed to you, then you're in luck in this post, as here I'm going to talk about how to join a writing group. Or if you can't find a group in your area that appeals to you, then how to go about starting one yourself.

Know who you are as a writer.

This seems like silly advice but it is crucial that you understand who you are as a writer and what you hope to accomplish before setting out to join a group. Casual writers do not want to join a professional artistic community, and vice versa. Similarly, poets will not want to join an all fiction community, and novelists may not want to join a solely short story group.

Know your skill level. If you're looking for nitpicky advice to turn your good work into great work, then don't join a writing group that only wants to talk broad topics like plot.

Beware groups that focus on a specific genre unless you only want to work in that genre and talk in that genre.

But don't be afraid to diversify

When the members of Obsession ran our panel, we were specifically asked what advice we would give to someone looking to start up a play writing group. Our specific advice was: Adopt some poets. Just because you're one type of writer doesn't mean you won't fit into a group of other artists. In fact these alternative viewpoints can be just what you need to go beyond the limitations of one style of thought.

If a writing group is willing to take in varying skill levels, then being among better writers can help you learn craft, and teaching less skilled writers what you know can solidify those skills.

Basically make sure that if you're seeking out a pre-established writing group, they may have a conflicting artistic viewpoint than yourself and you need to decide how restricted you're willing to be with your work, or how varied you're willing to experiment with.

Know how devoted a writer you are

Again, this seems like silly advice, but it is crucial that you also understand what type of commitment you want to make towards your group. Are you looking for something casual that meets once a month? Are you looking for something that meets more often? Do you want to meet in person or pass pieces around online?

Another good question to ask is what do you want to gain from the group? Are you only looking to improve your craft? Then you may not view the personalities of the people in your group as importantly as their own skill level. Alternatively, if you're looking to have a fun time where writing just happens to be included, you may want to try starting a group among friends as opposed to a purely craft based shop.

But sometimes you need a different sort to push you.

One of the things that humanity has proven about itself is that change is difficult for us, and we generally don't do it without a fight. You may want to seek a group that is a little out of your comfort range to push you artistically or socially. You may just wind up making some great new friends if you venture out of your comfort zone. You never know.

Know the qualifications to getting into a group.

I was invited into my writers group by another member of the group. Kind of like the modern Masons except that there were no aliens. I then had to audition for the group by bringing a piece to workshop and showing that I knew a thing or two about critiquing. But this is not how every group operates.

Some groups won't have any audition process, which makes it easy to join the group. Often you must contact whoever is running the show, but after that you just show up and workshop. You may even be lucky enough to live in an area that does an open workshop with no need to contact anyone.

Alternatively there may be some qualifications to join a group. You may need to write in a specific genre and prove your skill in it. You may need to prove your skill period even if it's an open genre group. You may be asked to take on some responsibilities of the group as a qualification for joining (for instance, hosting the group at times, or bringing snacks.)

Really it all comes down to the same problem with any group, how exclusive they wish to be.

But don't feel discouraged

Just because a group has specific qualifications/expectations and you don't meet them, don't make the mistake of thinking you're a terrible writer. A lot of exclusive groups write exclusive works. If you're looking for marketability you'll probably want a more open group purely for the exposure. If you still want to join that exclusive group that everyone in your area knows about, then it might be worth it to get some group experience with a less exclusive group until you get accepted.

And if you don't find a group in your area that offers what you're looking for, then make your own group! The only real qualification for having a writing group is to have at least two writers who meet to discuss writing. If you have friends who write, suggest you start a group. If you want to advertise and draw in more members, look to any local universities near you. Local book stores. Anywhere you think writers might congregate, advertise at. You never know who you might have decide to join up.

David is one of the founders and editors of Obsession Literary Magazine and the maintainer of Obsession's blog.

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