I know I’ve talked about this subject until I’m blue in the face, but after a recent meeting, it really struck home. You see, as a writer I’m also an observer and a listener. Okay, certain family members would say a selective listener, but let’s not pick at straws here, and I don’t care if it’s a cliché. The point is that when I listen, I pick up on things, like subjects for my articles! Collectively, even though I’ve covered it before, I’ve gathered another head of steam about writer’s groups because I’ve been hearing stuff, inspiring stuff, not in any spiritual sense, but in it’s time to discuss it with my readers inspiring stuff.
First let’s define what I mean by a writer’s group.
A writer’s group to me is one where you can read your work and have it critiqued. In other words, it’s a critiquing writer’s group. That, to me, is what I consider a good writer’s group. It’s one where you get your hands dirty, where you actually dive in, present your work, get it critiqued by your peers and also critique others. In this way, you actually learn the craft of writing and practice it.
A writer’s group that is basically just a club that talks about writing, maybe has speakers that come in a talk about writing is to me, something that barely touches the surface. You can listen to people until you’re blue in the face (and once again, I don’t care if it’s a cliché). You’ll end up with a whole lot of knowledge, but if you try to put it into practice, if you don’t have a support system and second sets of eyes to look it over, you could still be writing crap. There will be nobody to see the forest through the trees, no matter how many talks you attend, how many books you read and how many discussions you have. After all, do you take a course in writing, just listen to the instructor and never turn in any work to be graded?
A club is a club. Just because the subject and interest matter happens to be about writing doesn’t make it effective or beneficial to you unless there is a way for you to present your work. Someone, in fact many people should see it!
However, I want to make it clear that I’m not condemning writer’s clubs. They do serve a purpose, for general knowledge. They’re a great way to supplement your understanding of writing. However, they should not be your sole way of gaining your chops. If you had a choice between a good critique group and a writing club, chose the critique group. If you can dedicate the time to both, go for it. If it’s your only choice, take what you can get, but consider starting your own critique group.
The writer’s group from hell is out there. There are many faces to this type organization in all of their mean facets. They have agendas, allow blood on the floor, and when you leave a meeting, often you’re either pissed off, embarrassed, or depressed.
Sorry folks. That’s not productive!
Vibe is everything!
As an adult instructor with an education background, I can tell you that a hostile learning environment is counterproductive. Not only that, as a writer chasing his muse, inspiration and joy can be sucked right out of your life in a hostile and intimidating environment.
When you engage in a group that gives you this feeling, I don’t care the circumstances, run, don’t walk away! If that means seeking out a new group, starting your own, or just having to go solo, it’s better than putting up with that kind of bull.
GAINING YOUR CHOPS
Practical experience is the only way to gain your chops. With a critique group, you read samples of your work and people tell you what they think. You get a broad spectrum. This not only gives you different viewpoints, but it toughens you up to be able to take criticism. Keep in mind that this should be about the work and not you. It should be constructive and positive.
If you want to be a writer, don’t be a wallflower.
There will often be conflicting views of what you should do. Then, you need to take what the most experienced voices say, look it up, or go with your gut. As you gain experience, you will learn which way to go.
I’ve covered much of this several times in the past but the subject keeps coming up in my encounters, so I know it’s always a hot topic amongst writers.
WHAT I HEAR
We had a new person show up. He went to an alternative group (a writer’s club) in town. They told him that if he wanted a serious writer’s group, he needed to contact our group.
A member came back from a trip to another state and he visited a writer’s group there. He noticed an instant vibe the moment he walked through the door. Hostility. The room was filled with people with agendas, cliques and factions. They grouped into hostile camps. He couldn’t believe it.
At the conference last year, I talked to several people from out of town. I do a poll every year. Some were in writer’s groups similar to ours, while others were from small towns where they had nobody with which to form a group. Some were in clubs instead of critique groups and wished they had critique groups. Others were in hostile critique groups. One quit his group because he was in a writer’s group from hell.
A few weeks ago I talked to one of our members who used to be in the same writer’s group from hell I was in here in Las Vegas when I first arrived in 2002. He said it was still going until the Borders store closed a few years ago. I’m surprised it lasted so long. He still doesn’t know why he stayed as long as he did. He didn’t say how much he got out of it, but he was relieved to learn of our group.
I’ll probably continue to redo this same article in various forms because I’m a strong advocate for writer’s critique groups. Mine has helped me so much I can’t begin to say, and I know it’s helped many of our other writers.