Honestly the title of this blog post should be, “On Writing Support Groups and What to Watch Out For,” because not all writing groups provide the support you deserve or even need. I’ve been involved in quite a few writing groups: at conferences, at homeschool group clubs, ones that meet monthly, family, and then of course the beta reader system I’ve created. I’m going to give you a brief overview of my experiences and then we’ll launch into why it’s a good idea for you to have a writing support group, what you should look for in one, and what you should be careful of.
Unfortunately, I’ve wound up in a lot of writing groups that provided negative experiences. The first conference I went to, I was the youngest writer in my critique group and over half of the participants were at least 3 years older than me. They weren’t incredibly tactful in how they suggested changes to my novel and often times they would laugh or poke fun at my writing just because it wasn’t as mature as theirs’. This critique group actually provided enough negative experience that I stopped writing for 4-6 months because I hated everything I wrote. Shortly after getting back into writing after my hiatus, I joined a writing group where there was an instigator that made fun of his own brother’s writing and got others to join in. It was very discouraging, and I ended up quitting that group. I had author “friends” that told me my writing was awful and immature and I needed to write more grown up (see: write sex like she did. I was 14/15 years old when I was told this).
But in having those negative experiences, in the future, I was then able to judge what positive writing groups were like. Hint: they don’t tell you your work is flawless and that you shouldn’t change a thing. 😉
The second conference I went to, I wound up in a fantastic critique group that offered both positive and negative feedback, suggested changes to make, offered to brainstorm my story with me since we came upon a gaping plot hole, and were just overall tactful. They knew that being directly blunt or saying all things negative wasn’t the way to go about things. And when I found my beta readers, they challenged me and pushed me to make my writing the best it could be, while also still remembering to provide positive feedback.
With my experiences laid out there, I’ll go ahead and launch into why I believe a writing support group is important (especially since y’all are probably like “Wow, do I really want a support group after all of her negative experiences?”).
Writing support groups benefit your writing, first and foremost. If you have a great support group and you have beta readers or critique partners that know what they’re doing and know what to look for to provide the best feedback possible, your writing will most definitely show it. It will be more tight-knit, more professional. Typos and minor inconsistencies will often be caught. Major plot holes will definitely be caught. They challenge you to be the best you can be while also encouraging you through the entire process.
And that’s my second biggest point on why you should have a writing support group: they encourage you. Writing is a very lonely craft. You have to go at it alone more often than not, and often times there are few people (if any) in your life that you feel you can share your writing struggles and breakthroughs with. If you have a good writing support group, you won’t feel as lonely. You can share your struggles and get suggestions, new and fresh ideas, or just hugs, which can also be very beneficial in frustrating writing scenarios. You can share your breakthroughs and celebrate with your group because they’re invested in you and your story and they’re going to be excited for you. Don’t go at it alone when it comes to writing; don’t isolate yourself. Writing will be far more enjoyable with people you can talk about it with.
Also, in this day and age, readers are looking to connect with authors and writers are always looking to meet fellow writers. Put yourself out there. Network. Connect. You’ll be surprised how much support you can find.
However, there will be times when you wind up in a negative writing support group. Here are just a few things to look out for to see if you have been caught up in one of them or if you’re unsure:
- They mock your writing and other’s writing, but they cover it up by making it in the form of jokes that they get others to join in on. Please, please, please recognize this for what it is. It’s bullying. I was roped into jokes like these until I realized what they were covering up, and it made me ashamed. I went back and apologized to the person we were poking fun at. I stopped going to the meetings that writing group had. Take a note from my past ignorance.
- They only give negative feedback. Don’t subject yourself to this. Getting only negative feedback tends to make you get in your own head. “Is my writing good enough?” “They didn’t seem to like this very much.” “Maybe my story is crap.” “I need to trash my novel. Nobody likes it.” Seriously. These are lies. Don’t participate in a group with negative people because, even if they don’t mean to, they will tear your self-confidence and excitement to shreds.
- They only give positive feedback. I’m going to clue you into something – your novel isn’t perfect. None of my novels are perfect. Nobody’s novels are perfect! Especially not when they’re just starting to be edited. If all you ever get is positive feedback for your support group, sure, it may feel nice, but then you become immune to all the things that need to be reworked in your book. Eventually, you even start to refuse what you assume is “negative” feedback. Everyone’s been telling you your book is “flawless”, so why should you listen to anyone else?
- They don’t give any feedback. They just read it and go “yeah, this was good.” Or worse, they don’t read it at all. They flake out on you. They don’t give you anything constructive. No feedback is just as detrimental as all negative or all positive feedback.
Are you already participating in or building your own writing support group, or are you holding back? What’s stopping you? Do you have anything you’d like to add?