If you’re like most writers, you write alone.
No audience, no interruptions, no distractions, no how.
If you’re like me, you need that solitude in spades. My kiddo, for instance, knows not to disturb me at my laptop unless he’s nicked an artery or lost a limb. (Put down the phone to CPS, folks – he’s 20 now, so this doesn’t qualify as child neglect.)
But once you’ve written a few pages or a few chapters, don’t you want someone to read them? To let you know if a character needs fleshing out or a scene or plot point isn’t working? To reassure you that you’re on the right path? To encourage you to keep going?
If so, what you may need is a writers group.
Four years ago, right after I finished the first draft of my first novel, I started the Pagan River Writers. Since then, we Pagans have been meeting the third Friday of every month. I’ve also had the chance to sit in on a few other groups over the years, and what I’ve found is that no two are the same. Writers have different needs, commitment levels, experience and end games.
So what makes a good writers group – for you?
Chemistry is key. It’s the members that make or break any writers group. I was lucky. As a journalist I had only to look around the newsroom to pick and choose personalities I thought would fit – colleagues who I knew had creative writing ambitions and in some cases a work in progress. Or even had published books under their belt.
But however serious you are about writing, find like-minded people with a similar level of commitment. And, as much as possible, similar experience and ability. Check out local writers seminars or book readings. Ask at the local library. Ask your friends.
Just remember these are people who’ll be reading pieces of your heart and soul on a regular basis. That takes a certain level of trust and vulnerability. And judgment. Don’t take it lightly. Make sure the group dynamics are right for you.
How often will you meet, and where? Will there be a nosh? A dinner? What do you want from each other? Constructive criticism? Line or copy edits? A gentle read followed by a rote pat on the back? An incisive assessment of plot, character and story arc?
The Pagans meet once a month. I provide chips, beer and wine, and someone usually brings an extra bottle or two. We order delivery pizza and share the bill. We email our new pages to each other a week or two ahead of time, so by the time we meet we’re ready with our critiques.
Some groups don’t send out pages in advance, but have each writer read her new pages aloud at the meeting. It works for them. For me, meeting time is precious and can be better spent on feedback. Plus, reading aloud is a drag if several people have submitted a good number of pages. In fact, for larger or more prolific groups, it can be impossible. If all five Pagans submitted 20 or 30 pages for the month, for instance, which has often happened, we’d be reading the equivalent of half a book to each other. And personally, I’d need a heckuva lot more wine for that.
This doesn’t just mean show up at meetings regularly or even on time (although that would be wonderful). It means contributing in every way – submit pages, offer helpful feedback to your group mates, guide them as best you can toward an even better poem, essay, short story or manuscript.
Not that a writers group has to be all business all the time – we talk shop, we joke, we veer off on tangents. But for the most part there’s a similar level of commitment to the group and our individual ambitions.
And not every writers group or every writer has aspirations to publish. Many are just looking for a creative outlet and conviviality; gentle readers or kindred spirits to appreciate their work. Of course, if one day a literary agent came knocking at the door, they’d be happy to sign on the dotted line. Otherwise, for them, creative writing is enough for its own sake.
But wherever you stand on the ambition spectrum, be consistent. And be there.