When I first started considering being a freelance writer I remember thinking…now what? I didn’t know where to start, who to talk to or how it all worked. Of course I Googled things but without a mentor to point me in the right direction I felt overwhelmed and paralyzed. After stumbling around for a while I met a freelance writer in person and she introduced me to a local writers group. I remember thinking…THIS is what I need! And you know what? It was.
Now that I’ve been around this world for a while I know there’s a lot of people on the Internet who advocate against writers groups. And their reasons are fair. If you get a bad group it can be a terrible waste of time and energy. If you’re in a group that’s not a good fit, you can feel unwelcome and competitive. If you’re in a group of people who aren’t there to be helpful, it can be a disheartening and negative experience.
But what if you get the right writers group?
Well! Now we’re talking. If you’re in a good writers group you’ll benefit from SO MANY THINGS!
Reasons to join a good writers group
- You get out of your own head
- You receive (instant) helpful and constructive feedback
- You have others who believe in you and your work even when you don’t
- You meet other writers
- You hone your craft
- You will be motivated
- You will be kept accountable
- You may even find a mentor
OK so I’ve convinced you to join a writers group. Great. Now for the next important question: HOW. How do you choose a writers group? How do you know which one is good?
How to choose a (good) writers group
Before you can choose a writers group you have to have some idea of what you’re looking for and what you need. You should know what type of writing you do, how much commitment you can make, what type of writers group you’re looking for (there are many kinds of writers groups: critique groups, mentorship groups, professional groups, genre-defined groups, non-fiction groups, freelance groups…etc.), and how formal you want the group to be. Once you know those things, here are a few ways to tell if the group is a good writers group.
- Does the group have a clear and defined goal?
- Does the group have the same writing interests as you?
- Do the members in the writers group write more than they talk about writing?
- Is the group committed to kind and constructive feedback?
- Do the members get along?
This doesn’t have to be engraved on a plaque but it does need to exist. If a group doesn’t know why they’re meeting it’s like a book club without a book…what’s the point?
You want to make sure your writing interests are aligned. While it’s great to know writers from all sorts of genres, a writers group should have a bit more in common. If you’re a poet, find a poets group. If you’re a freelance writer, find a freelance writers group (they exist!).
Writers write. Keep that in mind. Yes it’s good and important to socialize with other writers but a writers group should be filled with people who are writing and it should motivate you to do the same.
This has to be a safe space. You have to feel comfortable sharing your work with likeminded people and if you encounter writers who are harsh or cruel then this isn’t the kind of group you want to be in. There’s a difference between ripping someone to shreds and offering helpful critique. New writers are more sensitive and don’t take criticism well, even if it’s well-intended. Make sure the group remembers what it was like to be new and not used to receiving criticism.
If the writers group has behaviour guidelines—even better! If you check out a writers group meeting and there’s bickering or snide remarks or shaming then this isn’t a good sign. Maybe there’s a bad egg and he or she needs to be removed from the group—ask the leaders what their behaviour policy is and don’t join a group where people don’t get along.
Of course no group is perfect and there are always moments where someone steps out of line or someone’s feelings get hurt. This is a part of being human. But if overall a writers group aims to meet these points then it is probably a good group. And I will also mention these groups aren’t always in person—there are virtual writers groups and critique groups that work better for some than in-person meetings do.
Where to find writers groups
Here are a few ideas for places to look when you’re ready to join a writers group.
- Online. You can Google or search for “local writers groups” on Meetup and see what comes up. I’ve found groups this way and met a lot of interesting people through attending random local events I found online. You can do the same type of search on social media. I’ve joined lots of writers groups on Facebook and have found a couple I’m getting a lot out of
- Writing associations. I’m part of a professional writing association (PWAC) and they have chapters all over Canada. I joined my local chapter and find a lot of value from my relationships with the other professional writers in the group
- People you know. I mentioned how I met a local writer and she connected me with a writers group. I was so starved for connection and direction I couldn’t wait to go. Meeting other writers was so important to my development as a writer. I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t met such wonderful mentors
- Writers conferences. Yes! Going to a writers conference is huge in itself but if you can maintain relationships with a few of the writers you meet there, even better! Join an existing group or start your own. It’s a great option.
Sometimes it feels like a lot of effort to connect with other writers and when you’re an introverted writer (as so many of us are) it can be that much tougher. I attend writers groups to stay connected and socialized as well as offer encouragement and support to the writers who I receive encouragement and support from. If you can find a good writers group I know you’ll understand why I recommend it! Why not give it a try?