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.
I’ve been in two. One fell apart quickly, the second went on for several years and was valuable in terms of understanding genres I’d never been exposed to, but there was too much trepidation when it came to constructive criticism. The real problem with writing groups in Maine it the lack of same. Too few and too damn far away from most of the northern half of the state.
What John said, only for the western part of the state. That said, my one critique group experience, back when I was writing romance, was a good one. We met at a halfway point, alternating Newport with Lewiston, and sent pages by mail (this was before email boomed) in advance. We wrote on each other’s pages as well as discussing them as a group. Our most important rule was to couch comments in a positive manner. Instead of saying “that chapter stinks” we went with “your chapter might work better if . . .” Eventually the traveling got to be too much, considering members were coming from Orono in one direction and Milford, NH in the other, and we disbanded, but I wouldn’t have missed the experience for anything. I have to disagree with you on one point, though. What made this particular group work so well was that we were all writing (and reading) romance and understood the conventions of that particular genre.
Love my writing group! They helped immensely with the two books I’ve worked on with them. The first book got a new story arc because the group thought I gave short shrift to a character they loved. The second book I essentially wrote with the group rather than bringing a completed ms in for critique. We generally meet in our local library (presently still closed), but have been doing field trips outside since it warmed up. We gather our lawn chairs, six feet apart, and discuss.
This is a good, succinct synopsis of the keys to a successful group, Joe. You’re dedication to the guidelines noted above helped establish the criteria that have kept the Pine Cone Writers Den going strong for the past eleven years. You’re sorely missed, but I’m so glad your talents as both writer and critic are being enjoyed by your new group!