Writing groups can be wonderful and they can be terrible. This is straight from the first Don’t Write Like You Talk book, because some problems are timeless.
The cheapest, but not necessarily easiest way to get consistent feedback on your working novel is to join a writers’ group. There are many in your local area and the only reason you did not know this is you just thought about joining a group an hour ago.
Look on- line. Find a group close by because if you must drive through traffic to meet with the group, you won’t do it for very long. Twice. Fewer if it’s raining.
Look for groups through the local community colleges. Find them through writing clubs like California Writers. You can also find and join groups through projects like NaNoWriMo.
The key consideration of writing groups is reciprocity. You must be prepared to read all the group member’s works in exchange for them reading yours. It’s like homework. Plus, if you want good comments, you must deliver good comments. Be willing to spend hours a week reading other people’s work.
There are three types of critique groups:
Membership is limited to about five writers, some published and some pre-published. The members, on the whole, smile, ask about your day and like you, have already read your 10-page submission before the meeting time. Good members deliver honest and constructive feedback because they are here to help you write better and payback is a bitch. They understand your vision, get what you’re trying to accomplished. They are on your journey and you will mention their help in the acknowledgement page of your next book.
No one reads ahead, so you all waste much of the time reading the submitted work out loud during the meeting time and you are not sure anyone is listening to you because you don’t listen to them. Meeting times devolve after two months and become increasingly sporadic: one or two members are always sick, another one is always out to town, and the third is so embroiled in family disasters it’s amazing she has time to write at all. More time is spent trying to find an inclusive meeting date than meeting. Many members don’t really understand your genre and so the western writer is always making suggestions that center around gun fights at high noon. Which is a great idea, except that you are writing a romance.
Right in the middle of the discussion about writing, someone brings up the current President or current election for president, or the past election that was a clear travesty. The conversation suddenly becomes heated and escalates into political rants and a slather of outrage over whatever topic is trending. If you happen to be the only conservative/liberal in the group, take cover.
Wine is served at the end to sooth the savage beasts. As you leave (flee) the building, you question the wisdom of allowing these people access to your precious work.
Not a single member of the ugly group is published, and so they spend a good hour or so of each and every meeting indulging in snarky comments about successful writers and how those writers aren’t any better than us, so what gives? They also like to speculate about the big advances they just read about and lament that they are not offered same. The group members sometimes meet, but only under a full moon on alternative Tuesdays when it isn’t snowing. Many members are so frustrated with their own lack of success that they take it out on the new guy, who is likely to be you. Instead of critiquing the work, you will be personally attacked, as if the work is you. (It’s not). Font choices for manuscript are debated, the merits of double versus 1.5 spacing is debated. People are moved to tears over the Oxford Comma controversy. Everyone hates your genre because everyone knows that genre is not real or serious writing.
You crawl away from this session vowing to quit writing entirely.
This meeting should be a once in a life time experience.
If you do find a good critique group – nurture the members. Bring them gifts of chocolate and gin. If you do score an advance, don’t brag, it’s not good for the writing group karma. If another member publishes, support her. Write reviews, help her promote her work, share the news.
A good writing group can be your ticket to getting published, or a ticket straight to hell. You won’t be able to tell until after you’ve arrived.