Writing groups on the web are so popular because they provide a space to share work and get helpful feedback, wherever you are. This helps you stay focused on your writing goals. Unsure of whether or not you should join an online writing group? Here are five reasons why it could be the best choice you’ll make for your starting and finishing your story:
1. Writing groups help you overcome your writing challenges
Do you crave an opportunity to talk to other writers who are in the same situation as you? Would it perhaps be helpful to talk to other writers about how they handled a particularly thorny writing issue?
Would you like to get regular feedback on your writing from others who know more about writing than your family and friends do? If you answered “yes” to even some of these questions, then joining a writing group is a smart choice.
There is a stereotype of the writer as a solitary figure slaving away in a room, but in fact, most writers get feedback from other writers. This is true even of the greats. William Faulkner dedicated a novel to writer Sherwood Anderson in thanks for his mentorship while Jonathan Safran Foer credits Joyce Carol Oates for inspiring him to write when she was his professor at Princeton. The same encouragement can come from peers. J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were part of a writing group known as the Inklings while the Bloomsbury Group that included Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster met more informally. Other writers have been linked through artistic movements like the Harlem Renaissance such as Langston Hughes, James Baldwin and Zora Neale Hurston.
Such groups were not just valuable to writers in the past. Today, many published novelists are part of formal or informal writing groups that either meet regularly in person or exchange critiques and support online as needed.
2. An online writing group will keep you accountable
Because the majority of aspiring novelists quit before finishing it’s important to put in place structures that will keep you accountable, productive and focused while you write a book. A writing mentor provides this powerful source of motivation and a writing group can too. Finding others who can commiserate with your problems and your triumphs can be a huge motivational boost. Talking with other writers about writing and what they are working on will inspire you to keep going on your own projects.
How accountability works depends upon how your group is run. Some groups may require writers to bring in a certain amount of work over a certain time period while others may be more informal. However, even for groups with no requirements, a writer is likely to feel some social pressure from the rest of the group, and this can be a good thing.
Having a group of people around you who are regularly writing and submitting is also good for you in the same way that it can be good to be around any group of people who reinforce your habits. Just as someone who wants to eat better and exercise more will have an easier time doing so if they are friends with many healthy eaters and exercisers, being around other writers more will naturally encourage you to be more productive.
3. Groups teach you to give and receive feedback graciously
Putting your work in front of others and getting honest feedback about the work is one of the hardest things you have to learn to do as a writer. New writers especially may have shown their work to very few people. A writing group is a great environment for getting accustomed to others seeing your work and having different (and not necessarily flattering) responses to it.
Here are just a few of the invaluable lessons receiving critiques provides:
- Not everyone will like what you write, and in some cases, that won’t be because there is something wrong with the work. Nothing is going to appeal to every single person who encounters it, and few things have near-universal appeal. Groups will prepare you for diverse reception.
- You will start to learn how to distinguish good critiques from poor ones and learn when to take or leave advice.
- You will grow a thicker skin and learn to get some distance from your writing. This is essential for working with editors and for hearing from reviewers and the reading public once your work is out there. A writing group will help you separate yourself from your work by giving you outside perspective.
4. Groups provide a space to learn from others’ mistakes
The value of learning to critique other writers constructively is immense. For many writers, this turns out to be even more useful than having their own work critiqued.
By reading another writer’s work while it is still in progress and pinpointing what they do right and what they do wrong, you develop your ability to ‘troubleshoot’ fiction. You’ll become a more critical and analytical reader all around. This will enhance your own writing.
5. You can use online writing groups to network and share helpful information
Which agents are taking new clients and what are they looking for? What publishers are open to unsolicited manuscripts? Are there unscrupulous agents or publishers that you should know about? What editors have moved to which publishing houses, and what are they looking for? What kind of feedback are other writers getting from manuscripts that they are sending out regarding what the market is and isn’t looking for right now?
You can get the answers to questions like these by being around other writers. It’s considered somewhat poor form to put another writer on the spot by asking for an introduction to their agent or another industry professional, but a fellow writer who likes your work is likely to help as much as they can.
Grow your fun online writing community now. Search through existing groups and join a community on your favourite writing subject or create your own writing group and invite others to join in the conversation.