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Should You Join a Writer's Group?

by Suzanna E. Henshon, PhD.

 Joining a writing group is a difficult decision. Youneed to figure out whether it's a good fit, or if you would be better off spending your time on your own projects. Most groups meet 1-3 hours every two to six weeks. Joining a  group is a relatively big commitment when you consider this istime away from family, work and writing. What do you need to knowbefore you decide whether or not to join a writing group?

Here are some pros:

• You'll develop a broader network of writing friends. You will meet people with different expertise andbackgrounds from yourself.

• You will find out about new writing opportunities.You will hear about conferences, events, and localopportunities that you might never have known about otherwise.

• You will become a better editor. Many times you will see another writer make a mistake, only to realize you are making the same mistake in your work. As you becomea better editor, you'll become a better writer.

• You will become a more serious writer. When you have to write a piece every 2-4 weeks, you will become more serious about writing in general; it won't just be a recreational activity but a serious vocation thatcould someday become a full-time career. After all, you have to submit a piece for critiques on a regular basis, or show up and work with other people on their manuscripts.

• You will become a better writer. As you spend moretime on writing, you'll become better at it. Attending group meetings will make you more realistic about publishing and the writing life in general; you'll realizethat in order to improve and get published, you have to put the time in.

Here are some cons:

• You may be at a different level than the people in the group. Within a writing group, people generally have wide variations in their expertise and skill levels, andthis can be a good thing. But if you aren't on parwith the other group members, the writing group may not be a good fit for you.

• You may not agree with the philosophies and rules of the writing group. Sometimes writing groups will have rules about acting professional. After you understand these philosophies and rules, it is critical to adhere to them while you are attending the meetings. But you may discover the philosophies aren't a good fit for your style. For instance, you may be required to comment on everyone's pieces; you may decide that you don't feel comfortable critiquing someone in a public setting or that you may not want to spend that muchtime editing someone else's piece. Maybe you wouldprefer to spend this time working on your own manuscript.

• You may not have the time. If the group meets for 2-3 hours on a biweekly basis, it might encompass the majority of your free time over the course of a month. May beat first you'll see improvement in your own writing, but at some point it may taper off. Ultimately, you need to decide if this investment is worth it.

• You might find yourself spending more time on other people's pieces than on your own. Depending upon the level  of the writers, you could learn quite a bit or nothing. Writing group members run the gamut from casual to serious, and this is reflected in what they submit to the group for critiques. If you are getting frustrated with having to correct other people's grammar and spelling mistakes, you may decide it's time to move on from the group and go solo with your writing.

• You may find the group isn't a good fit. Maybe the composition of the group isn't diverse enough, or you don't want to have to follow the etiquette and rules of the writing group. Remember, there is nothing wrong with moving on; most people aren't lifelong members of writing groups. You may decide to start your own group with people whose interest and expertise aligns closely with your own. Do what's right for you, and wish the group well.

If you locate a group with an opening for a new member, ask if you can sit in on one meeting before committing to join.

Ask what the group's expectations are of its members, and decide if you can meet them. To find groups in your area, join your regional chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (http://www.scbwi.org), check community bulletin boards at your library and local book stores, or inquire with writing instructors at your local community college.

 

Dr. Suzanna E. Henshon is a writer, professor, and CBI Contributing Editor.