Sunday, March 27, 2016

WRITERS' GROUPS: Are they worth it?

Why is it so many published authors belong or have belonged to writers’ groups and so many unpublished writers don’t? Is this phenomenon telling us something? An essential truth, perhaps?  
Half-a-dozen best-selling novelists and non-fiction authors I know still attend their groups. Most manage it via the Internet but they continue to benefit from their colleagues’ assistance with difficult passages and feedback for their works-in-progress. They also deliver their wisdom to the other members. Some published authors belong to more than one writers’ group.
I attended my group off-and-on for about twenty-five years, only taking time out reluctantly due to unavoidable conflicts. Since I joined, I have had two books traditionally published on Canadian naval history, one on church history, and one, a young adult biography/adventure story. Later I became a hybrid author, self-publishing books for writers and teachers, and photo portfolios. Since 1971 my articles have appeared in print and more recently online. The majority of my work has been improved by the feedback I have received over the years. And, I still participate — both as a facilitator and a member of a private group.
Benefits vary from writer to writer but here are a few:
  • Editors/agents are reassured when they learn unpublished authors belong to a group.
  • Writers gain much support from other writers – groups are a place to celebrate and commiserate.
  • Members discuss the ‘business’ of writing, such as query letters, proposals, synopses, taxes, Public Lending Right, copyright, etc.
  • Writers develop their craft in a non-threatening environment – practice, feedback, revision.
  • Groups are highly motivating and often fun. Friendships often form to mutual advantage.
Port Moody's Writers Group has been running for over forty years. This is the final session of the term when everyone reads their best work and celebrates. Members bond quickly and welcome new ones.
©Photos by Pharos 2015
Writers’ groups come in all shapes and sizes. Some are free and others charge a fee; some have experienced leaders and some do not; some are just for poets and others are for all types of writers. A few are by invitation-only. You get the picture. I favour a live group, rather than virtual, that has a multi-faceted membership of published and unpublished writers, poets, novelists of different sub-categories, nonfiction authors, playwrights, and freelancers. A mixture of members exposes a writer to techniques you might otherwise not hear much about and they all advance your skills.  As groups differ widely, a first timer needs to try out more than one if possible and see which one suits. Look for a published facilitator, otherwise it can be the blind leading the blind. 
For example, I need a group that is honest, kind, and highly knowledge-able but constructive in their critique (I prefer the term "feedback"). And, by constructive, I mean providing solutions to the problem that has been defined.
Finding a live writers’ group can be a challenge as many are full. The best ways I know to locate the groups include asking those who instruct writing programs in continuing education departments, talking to a local librarian, mingling at conferences, book signings or open mic evenings, and joining a local writers’ association.
After you have settled into a group, not only do you receive wisdom, you must be willing to do your share of dispensing it. Initially you may only provide a little to the feedback but as you work on the craft of writing, you will begin to contribute more and more, as well as gaining the ability to identify weaknesses in your own work. Honest give and take is the lifeblood of writers’ groups.
The essential truth is therefore – attend a writers’ group in person or online to enhance your writing career and increase your chances of publication.