What Makes A Good Writers’ Group?

Author Matthew Munson looks at why good writers’ groups work, and how to avoid the getting stuck in an unrewarding group.

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© 2016 Thanet Writers

What are your views on writers’ groups? This website was the brainchild of a writers’ group in Thanet, so perhaps it’s a loaded question, but I’m always interested in what people get out of them.

I’ve had a colourful history with writers’ groups, having attended a few in different parts of Thanet to see how I get on with them, and the best ones are where you can get constructive feedback on your work – and where writing, rather than just having a social, is the order of business.

Writers’ groups aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, of course; I don’t go regularly any more, but that’s more to do with my own personal schedule rather than anything else. Dean Koontz apparently loathes writers’ groups and Harlan Ellison despises them, but so many more people love them – Chuck Palahniuk swears by them – and many newly successful writers have got to where they are because of the supportive atmosphere in their group which helped develop their piece of work.

If you decide that a writers’ group is for you, then here are a few rules to be guided by in deciding when it’s for you.

Does the group have any interest in the type of writing you want to do?

This is key. I went to a writers’ group once with an excerpt of a sci-fi story I was working on, and had it described as “derivative” and ”second-rate” because it wasn’t high-rate literature. I was rather … blunt in my reply, as I quoted them the works of Asimov, Attwood and Mieville, and then left, never to return. It wasn’t because I didn’t want critical feedback – I did – but because of the attitude towards a genre that they didn’t “approve of.” Fortunately, that group has now dissolved; it was rather toxic.

Does the membership arrive and get to work, or does everyone just stand around and talk about writing?

© 2016 Thanet Writers

© 2016 Thanet Writers

Pretty early in the meeting, everyone should start moving toward the chairs. Manuscript pages ought to start appearing in hands, and pens and notepads ought to come out. You should see people beginning to discuss the writing they have in front of them, in whatever critique format they use.

Talking about writing is absolutely fine, but the writing itself – the critical discussions – should come first.

What are the rules for giving healthy, honest critiques?

This is so important. One nasty writer with a mean streak can destroy a talented beginner. This is vile, deceitful and nasty behaviour. Don’t ever tolerate it. Encourage healthy criticism that makes the work better.

What are the rules for receiving critiques?

Again, this is essential. People get very defensive when others are telling them what they did wrong, and their first impulse seems to be to argue. The first rule of receiving decent, honest criticism, truthfully meant, must be to “shut up and listen.” If people have taken the time to read or listen to what you wrote, take the time to hear what they have to say about it.

Is anybody happy to see you?

Do people make an effort to include you? Did anyone ask you your name? Do you enjoy going?

All of these points are really important to consider; in most areas, there are really positive and healthy writers’ groups – the group behind Thanet Writers being one of them. But find a group that suits your personality, temperament and style; if you can’t find one, create one. It’s pretty simple, when you get down to it. Your work is important; treat it as such by sharing it with people who will respect it.

Thanet-based author Matthew has two novels published by Inspired Quill, is an inveterate blogger, and writing is his passion.

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