People ask me all the time about what it takes to publish a novel. What’s the best steps to take? How do I go about it? One of the first things I tell them is to join a writing group.
I’ve been in many writing groups throughout my career. Some were good and some not so much. I’d been in one called The Pine Nuts that met monthly in Cape Elizabeth for seven years and that group was amazing. It helped me become a better writer in ways I’d not anticipated. Unfortunately, I had to quit the group for personal reasons. So when I began looking for a new group to join last year, I knew the kind of people I wanted to surround myself with. My current group, while small, has been invaluable to me.
Do you need a writing group? In my opinion, every writer would benefit being in one. Not just any group though. It’s important that you find one that is a good fit for you and where the members are thoughtful and respectful of each other’s work. A good writing group nurtures the individual rather than criticizes and puts the writer down. They find the good in a manuscript while gently coaxing the writer to make important changes where needed.
What to look for in a good writing group.
1. Experience. You want to join a group with some experienced writers who have also been in a group setting before. People who have been in a group understand how to criticize without being too judgmental, as well as praise the writer where praise is needed. Experienced members can also put you at ease and give you vital feedback in a supportive and positive environment
2. Diversity. By this I mean you want a group with different types of writers. Diversity in this regards allows you to see different styles of writing and incorporate that in your manuscript. Good writing is still good writing, but if someone who writes romance really enjoys a chapter of your crime novel, then you know you’ve done a good job holding their attention.
3. Dedication: There’s nothing more frustrating than showing up to group only to realize that half the members have not showed up. Or have not read your submission, even though you spent hours reading and critiquing their submission. A group is only as good as its members and so a policy of some sort attendance policy makes sense. Ask the group leader about the dedication of its group members. If the attendance policy is not enforced, I would think twice about joining.
4. Rules: There should be some rules if a group is to be successful. They don’t need to be hard and fast, but you don’t want to join a group where chaos and disorder are routine, otherwise you’ll be wasting your time. For example, each person should be allowed a limited amount of time to speak without interruption. There should be a limit as to how many pages a person can submit to the members each meeting or else members will submit hundreds of pages. And each person should be allotted the same amount of time to critique a submission or else meetings can quickly get off topic. It always helps to have one person be the moderator, Keeping time and gently coaxing members to follow the rules. More importantly, all criticism should be based solely on the work and not be personal attacks.
These are the some of the checklist items to look for when thinking about joining a group. If you’re living in Maine, the MWPA has a comprehensive list of writing groups throughout the state. I would highly recommend joining a writing group if you want to kick your prose into higher gear. Feedback is extremely important to writers, especially new writers still looking to establish their voice. Be prepared to develop a thick skin, and try and view criticism not as a personal attack but as a tool to help you get better. Without criticism, you’ll never know what you’re doing wrong or what in your work needs to be fixed. Different sets of eyes will point to weaknesses in your writing. Good feedback will help you straighten out bad habits, realize the holes in your plot and heLp you improve your character development.
So go out and find your people. It will not only help you improve your skill set, but you mind make some new friends for life.