Fiction writing is a craft that requires knowledge of writing techniques which can be acquired in many different ways. Some writers choose to study creative writing at a recognised tertiary institution to gain a Diploma or Degree in the subject. Others attend courses and seminars and workshops to expand their knowledge. One aspect of becoming a successful fiction writer is to join a group to share knowledge and mix with like-minded people. This article explores what writers should look for in a writing groups. It provides real-life examples of writing group experiences and exposes what each serious fiction writer needs to know about writing group critiques.
Becoming a successful fiction writer requires a huge amount of dedication, discipline and the desire to continually build knowledge of techniques and markets. In addition to attending courses, seminars and workshops, some fiction writers join a writing group. I have been down this track myself and co-ordinated a group for six years.
Before any writer decides to join a writing group, there are a few positives and negatives to consider:
- The level of expertise of the existing members of the group
- How many group members are seriously working towards publication
- How the group facilitates critiques
- How many group members have similar experience to you
- Are some members in the group only for social reasons?
- How diverse is the type of work being produced by group members?
- Is the group structured with opportunities for each member to present a writing topic at a meeting?
Because writing groups spring up in various local areas, it is not often that all members of the group will be travelling the same road. For instance, a group of twelve writers could be involved in many different forms of writing. Here is a sample of a group of twelve to demonstrate this situation:
4 group members write poetry for personal enjoyment
2 group members are working on short fiction stories. One of these members has had one story published in a magazine.
2 group members are in the process of writing their first novel
1 group member has had two books published by a recognised publisher
1 group member has self published one book
As this breakdown demonstrates, the group of twelve is diverse. If a new member is reasonably experienced and is working on a second novel, there are only two group members who have successfully completed writing a novel and two are starting out in this arena. The poets and short story writers will not necessarily be able to offer the level of assistance to the new member, albiet from a readerâ€™s point of view.
Writing group critiques
Some writing groups conduct critiques by having each member read their work aloud with other members interjecting to offer their critique. I consider this method to be lacking in intrinsic value. The reason for this is that work read aloud does not afford the listener the opportunity to correct punctuation. Also, some people (I am one) prefer to read from a paper copy of the work so they can make notes on the actual manuscript.
To produce effective critiques really requires each writer to provide each other member with a paper copy of the work to be critiqued prior to the meeting. This way, each person can explain their suggestions and provide the writer with a marked copy of the work.
From personal experience, the group of twelve I was involved with had only four serious writers involved. The other eight hardly produced any work and it seemed they liked to attend the meetings for the social supper that occurred half way through the proceedings. It became a point of contention that the four serious writers did not want the â€œtag alongsâ€ providing critiques unless they were prepared to put in a writing effort between meetings. Consequently, our group of four organised clandestine meetings away from the group to do our critiques independently.
Group administration and co-ordination
After six years of co-ordinating the group and presenting many mini seminars on various writing topics, I realised it was time for somebody else to take on the role of co-ordinator. One of the group of four volunteered to do the job for a year. Our plan was for a different person to co-ordinate the group for a year each. At the end of the period, nobody wanted to take on the role. The group disbanded and the group of four kept in touch to offer support to each other on an ad hoc basis.
Moving on from a writing group
Ultimately, every writer has to take responsibility for their own writing career. Groups can be helpful in the initial stages, but only if all members contribute and have the same level of commitment to their fellow group members.
Of our group of four, member 1 has had great success writing medical romances for Mills & Boon. She has also co-authored a book with her sister. Member 2 is now a multi-published international author of erotic fiction, and romance fiction. Member 3 has had one romance novel published by a lesser known publisher and I last heard she is working on a fantasy romance trilogy. In my own case, I chose to become a publisher and continued to work as a contract technical writer while writing my own style of edgy, provocative romance fiction. One writer outside the group of four has recently self published a book. None of the others have done anything of note with their writing.
Online writing groups
Online writing groups have become very popular in recent times. One of the advantages of joining an online writing group is that writers can target their chosen genre. This removes the distraction of writers who fall outside this arena.
Whichever writing group a writer chooses to join, I recommend that exploration first will be of advantage. There is no sense in spending time at a writing group if it is not fulfilling your needs. A writing group should be the right fit and act as an impetus to drive your writing career into the future.
An excerpt from my book Being a Successful fiction Writer â€“ from the chapter â€œThe pros and cons of joining a writing groupâ€
Â© 2012 â€“ Susan Jane
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