Monday night was the most recent meeting of the Mysterious Galaxy Writers Group. It is a support group that I have been a member of since its inception and one that credit for a substantial amount of growth as a writer.
Writers groups are not for everyone but I think that when they work they are tremendous tools for many writers. Ours runs on a fairly informal basis and focuses on live readings and immediate critiques. At each meeting anywhere from three to five of our members will read about 1200-1500 words of their material and then in round-robin everyone else will give their feedback. It’s roughly the Milford Method in that the author says nothing, except answering direct questions from the others, and there is very limited ‘open discussion’ among the others. Each person gives their feedback, usually taking just two or so minutes and then on to the next.
The benefits of such a groups really come down to three main areas.
Learning to give and take critiques. It’s an old saying but a very true one that the value of critiques is not the ones you get back but the ones you give out. Of course getting feedback on a piece can be powerfully useful. We all have blind spots about our material and those alternate viewpoints help. But learning to see what doesn’t work in other stories makes it easier to spot those same flaws in your own.
Being a member of a writers group can help make you more productive. In addition to the positive feedback when people like your work there is also the expectation game. If others are expecting more of a story then you are more likely to work your way though the rough patches instead of giving up and getting distracted by the next shiny idea. Truly I feel the most important skill any writer needs to master is the ability to get to the end of the tale.
And not least important is the friendship. Writing can be a lonely craft and one that is not easily understood by those who do not feel the call of the muse. Spending time with others who suffer the same troubles, doubts, and joys can be invigorating. Never underestimate the importance of morale, to an army and to a person, especially your own. The friendships I have forged through my group are powerful and I hope I have been as big as help to them as they have been to me.
If you form a writers group here are a few bits of advise I think you may find helpful.
Be collaborative, with the work and how the group functions.
Be Supportive, and if there are members who enjoy tearing down others’ work, do not suffer them. These things work much better if the member is there to help each other and not satisfy their own ego.
Find something praise in every critique. It’s hard hearing the bad stuff, make it easier with compliments on what did work.
Avoid saying that ‘this is wrong.’ and ‘that’s a mistake.’ Rather phrase things what did and did not work for you. This is art not physics.
And most of all, have fun, enjoy the process.