When you shouldn’t join a writers’ group

Following on from a recent post about why writers' groups are awesome, I thought it would be helpful to look at the reasons why a writer should not join a group. I originally intended for this post to be rather cheeky but as I began writing it, it became clear to me that there are some particular reasons why a group may not be the best option for a writer. So, here we go...

  • you need a writing course

This happens a bit: a new writer attends a writing group but has so many questions about voice, point of view, structure and character development, it’s often a course they need, not a group. A writers' group works best when writers bring a certain amount of knowledge about how storytelling works and are able to apply it to their own work and to feedback on the work of others.

I don’t believe everyone needs to be at the same ‘level’ ie, all must be published, to work. I think having an emerging writer in the group can be a great way to get another perspective but it does put extra time and resource pressure on others if someone is asking fundamental craft questions.

  • you're just too busy

Everyone is busy but attending a group requires commitment and not everyone has the space in their life to show up at every meeting and be prepared to give 2-3 hours at a time. I’ve gone through periods when I’ve not been able to do it and I’ve had to pull back and admit it. It doesn’t help the group and it certainly doesn’t help your own work if you’re inconsistent in attending meetings or not 100% focused at the meetings.

  • it's painful to hear criticism

I’ve had to work on happily receiving criticism. My initial instinct was to push back or duck and avoid but, with practice, I’ve been able to really listen to the feedback and view it objectively. As a new writer, it can be difficult and confronting to hear negative feedback in a small group environment and I always make a point of asking new attendees to spend some time after the meeting reviewing how they reacted to the feedback. Did they feel uncomfortable? If so, how did it manifest? If they were giving the exact, same feedback, how would they have done it? It gets easier but if it’s painful and leaves a writer dejected and discouraged every time, that isn’t healthy.

  • you don't trust other writers

This is a biggie. Every now and then, I’ll have a conversation with a writer who is thinking about attending one of my groups but is afraid. They’re afraid of someone stealing their ideas, laughing at their ideas or misunderstanding them and when I prod a little, there’s generally always a story beneath the fear. They may have been hurt in a previous group or they’ve heard stories of how someone stole a story idea from another writer, made millions off it and left the original creator destitute. In cases like this, I try and help them understand that it’s a very rare thing for someone to be able to copy another writer’s story exactly and, besides, there are no new ideas under the sun. Everything’s already out there. I also stress the nature of my groups – we’re not there to take from each other but, rather, we’re there to support. My groups are safe and if they choose to attend, they’ll see that we’re a team. Writing a book, be it a children’s book, a book of poetry or fiction, is HARD work and everyone is so focused on trying to write THEIR story, they don’t have the time to think about double-crossing another member of the group.

Despite these assurances, however, some writers are not ready to be vulnerable and share and that’s okay.

  • you don't read widely

This one is only a problem if it means you are unable to give any kind of response to a writing working in a different genre. It’s also not a problem if you’re able to find a group that is focused on only one genre but many groups nowadays aren't. If group members are writing crime, romance and speculative fiction, it means you’ll need some understanding of the reader expectations in these genres and, better yet, to have done some wide reading to give feedback confidently.


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