Mood Tune: Illegal by Shakira (YouTube)
So, yesterday I was at a meeting where many people talked about resolutions. And I don't know if it's because I was in the room, that many of them talked about writing... finish the novel, keep a journal, submit a short story, etc...
And since I know a lot of you are writers with various goals, I thought I would share my take on something I found really important to my writing development.
For the past five years, I've been a member (on and off) of two writers groups in L.A. I've found the time spent with them to be very valuable. I always suggest to people who voice their interest in writing that they find a writers group in their area. For many reasons.
1. It forces you to write. One of my groups meets weekly. One, once a month. Each week we take turns feedbacking new pages, anywhere from 1 - 10 pages depending on the size of the group. When you know it's your turn to be feedbacked, you don't want to show up empty-handed. So you get your stuff together for your weekly/monthly meeting.
2. It teaches you the art of feedback and what works/doesn't. Aside from getting valuable feedback from group members, I've found that giving feedback helps me see what kinds of things I do and DON'T want to do in my writing. Weird to explain, but feedbacking others helps you look at your own writing more critically.
Now, what should you look for in a writers group?
1. An intimate size group. Both my groups are 6 and 8 people respectively. This makes the meetings comfortable, and gives everyone the opportunity to be feedbacked on a regular basis.
2. Similar work. If you're a poet, work with poets. If you're commercial fiction, work with commercial fiction writers. Not that diversity in styles and types doesn't work, but a commercial fiction writers may not appreciate the same themes/styles/nuances that a literary fiction writer may appreciate. That's all. Nothing against any types. And in both my cases, I'm not taking my own advice. I'm in mixed groups, but I always know when writer of style X gets to my work, they won't appreciate the same themes/styles/nuances I do.
3. Nice people. Nothing brings down a writers group more than a Negative Nancy or Petty Patrick. You want to be around writers who are there to HELP, not tear you down to lift themselves up. Not someone who nit-picks EVERYthing. But you also want to be open to all feedback. And you want people to learn and feel comfortable. Writing is sensitive and personal. There's just a way to give and receive feedback. How do you know if a writers group has nice people? Ask to sit in on a meeting. Watch how people give feedback. Observe who hogs the meetings with their agenda and story, while not giving equally to other members. Ask people what they think of the group dynamics.
4. Paid or Unpaid Group. One of my groups has dues. We use it for copies, refreshments, resource books for the collective. We are the weekly group. My other group is unpaid. We're monthly. There's commitment, but not the same as in a paid group. So think about it. My paid group is about $300 for 10 weeks per member, but that includes part of the fee for our facilitator, as well as the other things listed. The unpaid group... we took turns facilitating the meetings and leading the feedback on the turned in manuscripts for the week.
5. Facilitated Group. I think having a facilitator, whose job is to read and feedback manuscripts, and to lead meetings is important. This person shouldn't be a participant who submits manuscripts, but simply is the facilitator and lead feedbacker. My paid group has someone who hosts at her house weekly and gives us personal feedback in addition to the groups. She is an author, with an MFA, and who has published several books.
Oh, there are probably other things to look for in a writers group. I just can't think of them all now.
How to FIND a writers group? Call some English or Creative Writing teachers or professors in your local area. Talk to staff at your local bookstore or coffeeshop. Go on MySpace or Yahoo to look for groups in your area. Check out a cultural center in your neighborhood for advice. If you're in Washington D.C., here's a FREE writers workshop opportunity!
I wrote about Writing Groups here and Writing Resources here. Writing Resolutions.