How do writers become better writers? They seek feedback about their work before submitting it for publication or performance.
For the last decade I have belonged to at least one writers group every year. Getting feedback on a work in progress is in my view, an essential part of being a good writer. An editor will do this for you, but only once you have been accepted for publication. So unless you can afford to pay regularly for editorial guidance, where does that leave you? Close friends and family whilst usually well intentioned, often cannot provide the constructive feedback all writers require. Ideally you need readers who do not know you that well. A good group can help you edit, hone and improve your work. A bad group can drain your will to write, and an awful group can make you want to kill yourself (or other people in the group).
There are millions of writers’ groups all over the world, online and off. Most of them let you join no questions asked. But how can you tell a good group from a bad?
What to look for in a writers group
1. GOOD REPUTATION
Does the group have a good reputation? Are there any reviews online about them? How long have they been going? Established groups that have been running a while are generally a safe bet
2. WELL ORGANISED
There’s nothing worse than going to a writers’ group where it’s like a free for all. Look for groups that have a clear agenda on what happens. Who is reading or submitting work beforehand? How long will the session be? Any group that has a website is usually a good sign that it is well run. In 2016 there is no excuse for any writer or writers group to not have a website or online presence of any kind.
3. GOOD ATTITUDE
People write for a wide variety of reasons but you’re looking for a group that is friendly, open, accommodating and understanding. Any group that has persistent negativity running in its sessions or people writing for vanity’s sake is not a good group.
4. PROVIDE CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM
It is always easier to critique than to create. A good critique is one that looks at both the positives and negatives to a piece. It asks the writer questions the writer might not have thought to ask about their work. It sees things that a writer can’t always see and makes suggestions for potential improvement. Good criticism will never destroy a writer’s confidence. It will encourage them to continue to improve.
5. RESPECTFUL COMMUNICATION
I have attended writers’ groups where several people constantly interrupted and spoke over others. There is no need for that kind of rudeness. A good group listens giving an equal amount of time to each member, and hardly anyone interrupts when another person is speaking.
6. GOOD SENSE OF HUMOUR
Some writers can take things far too seriously. They usually end up being hated. A good group will have a light-hearted touch when necessary, and a good sense of humour. This helps to make feedback easier to absorb.
7. NO CLIQUES
Some groups have a tendency to have a group within the group. This is not great for anyone looking to improve their work without bias, and represents a poor attitude towards writing. There are no cliques in a good group.
8. SIMILAR GENRE/STYLES TO YOU
This is where research can really help, but the right group for you will often be the group where several or more members are reading and writing in the same genre to you. There is no point in going to a group whose members will dislike your work from the outset. They will be unable to provide the feedback you need.
9. NO EVIL PSYCHOS
You might laugh, but I have been to writers groups that were very much like attending a therapy session for escaped lunatics. You should be able to tell within a few meetings whether there are any nutters lurking within. A good group weeds out these kinds of people very quickly.
10. PEOPLE WHO WANT TO HELP EACH OTHER
Writing can be a lonely business. A good group will always look to help one another in improving work.
I am currently a member of Spectrum. It’s a London based critique group comprised of writers in the sci-fi, fantasy and horror genres. We are a mix of published and soon to be published writers and authors. This list was inspired by the way Spectrum runs its group meetings. It is an example of what a good writers’ group should be, but it’s not the only one.