If you are a writer who has never been part of a writer's group, I am here to change that. Seriously. Writing groups are the best things to happen to a writer since the invention of spell check. (I rely heavily on both so I would know.) For those who don't know a lot about it, writing groups are part social gathering, part creative free-for-all, and most importantly the safest place to have your writing be seen. As someone who is terrified of strangers reading my material, being part of a group has helped me learn so much about myself and my style of writing. I have improved tremendously because of it.
Initially I was very tepid towards the idea. Any time I have had friends read my material, I didn't get much feedback. There were comments like "this is great" or "this is interesting" which, besides being nice, didn't help me out at all. Part of it was because they were my friends and nobody wants to hurt their friend's feelings. What your friends don't understand is that writers want to create something that hits people hard. They want their stories to be complex, emotional and relatable. We need very specific critiques that friends and family just can't give. A writing group is exactly the type of place to receive advice that won't hurt your feelings because of prior relationships.
I would caution against joining a random group. If the group consists of too many friends, you can either get too harsh of criticism or not enough. Joining a group of strangers is also scary because they don't know you and your work can be misinterpreted (which might be helpful, if you're trying to market something to the masses!). My advice for your first venture out is to join a group that has a good mix of both. That way you can get an idea of how your work plays to random people as well as people you know. Below are more reasons why joining a writing group is the best decision of your life:
This is so important it needs to be repeated. Writing is rewriting. It's all about building off of what you have and making it better. Writing groups allow you to spot what works and what doesn't. That way you don't have to waste time trying to create a background story for a character when the group tells you the character is insignificant and should be killed off anyway. Feedback will make you a better writer.
2. New Friends
If you join a group where you know very few people, you will make new friends. And we all know how hard it is to make new friends when you are an adult.
While this is my least favorite word of all time, networking is how you get jobs. By being part of a writers group you can find out how to get a literary agent, or at the very least find out how other writers are doing. Career advice is never guaranteed — but its always welcomed when you're a struggling writer in your mid-20s.
4. Learning From Others
Just like Quentin Tarantino, you should consume as much writing as possible. He watched every movie ever made and then used the parts he liked in his own movies. I'm not saying that you should be stealing other people's material — in fact, you should never do that under any circumstances, but you can still learn from others. If you are a screenwriter, especially, reading scripts is the only way to know how to write one.
Writers have notoriously good food pallets. Expect to bring a variety of snacks to your meetings and be prepared to have some delicious junk food thrown your way. After all, how can you get through other people reading your writing without something delicious stuffed in your cheeks?
When the writers group is doing a good job, you will feel inspired to write. It can be from having a rough week where your work is super problematic and you are forced to fix it, or if you are having a good week and everyone wants to read more. You will leave the meeting feeling like you can bust out another 15 pages. If you are stuck on an idea, your fellow group members can throw scenarios your way.
Writers need support. I had really terrible writer's block for about a year when I first moved to Los Angeles. When I say writer's block, I mean, every time I would sit down in front of a computer screen I would question why I choose writing as a profession. At the end of the year I had not started a single screenplay. Being part of a writers group forces you to produce material, no matter how bad it is, for the next meeting. You can't show up empty handed. I worked through my writer's block and am doing much better now.
8. It Teaches You How To Give Good Critiques
Being part of a writing group really helps shape your own critiques. Listening to other people give advice teaches you what works and what doesn't. Pro tip: remember that this is not your writing, so instead of trying to make it yours, point out what you liked about their style and how they can improve on clarity and pace. I learned that after my first meeting.
9. It Teaches You How To Handle Criticism
My biggest fear when I share my writing is receiving poor criticism. I'm very fragile. Luckily, being part of a group is the most safe place you can share your work. Your friends are all trying to help you. You will learn how to handle criticism and better your writing.
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