Saturday, February 5, 2011

Let's Talk about Writing Groups!

Field's End, a local writers' community I love, had a super interesting Writers' Roundtable in December. The title: "Starting, Finding, or Caring for a Writing Group." The speakers were Margaret Nevinski, Margaret Trent, and Paul Hanson. All three are members of the Field's End Team, and together they have oodles of experience with various types of writing groups. Also, Margaret Nevinski is one of my critique group members!

left to right: Margaret Nevinski, Paul Hanson, and Margaret Trent

Even though the event fell on December 21st, four days before Christmas, the room was packed. The speakers had prepared a fabulous list of questions to consider, and they shared their expertise on writing groups as each question was addressed during their talk.

Some of the questions:

*How often will the group meet?

*Will manuscripts be exchanged at the meeting or ahead of time?

*Will there be time for socializing?

*Will there be a moderator?

*Does everyone have to write in the same genre?

*What about skill level?

*Will drop-ins be allowed or is a commitment required?

A couple of the answers they shared:

Paul's group, the
Speculative Fiction Writing Cooperative, is unique in many aspects. Meetings take place at Eagle Harbor Book Co., the incredible independent bookstore where Paul is the manager. Also, it's
not a closed group (I'll define a "closed group" as a group with a set membership); newcomers and drop-ins are welcome. Paul acts as a moderator. He said they talk at the beginning, and it is very much a support group for writers.

Both Margarets felt skill level was important. Margaret Nevinski said if a writer is way more advanced than the others in the group, frustration and resentment can build for that writer. She said frustration could build on the other end as well, if a writer feels like more of a beginner than everyone else.

Questions they listed about goals:

*Do we need them and what will they be?

*Will the group spend all their time discussing members' writing?

*Will we do writing exercises?

*Is their a collective publishing goal?

*Is it a support group?

*Will we invite guest speakers?

*Will we allow time to discuss publishing, marketing, and professional considerations?

They also talked about online groups, rules for critiquing, problems, and when to leave a group (when to disband or when a writer should leave one).

A couple questions regarding rules for critiquing:

*Orally or in writing?

*How to give feedback?

They followed up with what to do with the feedback and how to keep the group on track.

It was a wonderful evening.

How about you? Do you have any writing group advice?
Mine would be to join or start a group, and discuss expectations in advance. I understand some writers do best without a critique group, but not me. My critique groups have been vital to my growth as a writer, and they've strengthened me on this journey.


Andrea Mack said...

As a group member, I think it's important to keep up with my commitment to the group, even if it's hard sometimes. I also think it's important to be supportive of other group members, and respectful of their time.

Margaret Nevinski said...

I'm the lucky person in a crit group with Dawn and Jennifer Mann. Our group has been vital to my writing, too. At the Field's End Roundtable, George Shannon made an excellent comment about skill level. He said that a beginning writer's skills can show a lot of growth because of the group--something to keep in mind when determining if all members need to be generally at the same level. Thanks, Dawn, for a great post.

Dawn Simon said...

Andrea, I totally agree! Excellent points.

Margaret, yes! Thank you for adding that! I feel so fortunate to have you and Jen. You guys are awesome.

Kelly said...

Sounds like a great night! I agree that critique groups are so important, not only for the advice but for the support and encouragement as well.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dawn, just checking in to see how you doing. :o)

Solvang Sherrie said...

I am so glad to be in my critique group. They've helped me become a better writer and critiquer, they've supported me through countless rejections and they encourage me to keep writing. I'm so happy to have found them.

Molly Hall said...

I also treasure my writing group. I rely on them for critique, community, support, and friendship. I am really blessed to be in a group that has "grown up" together over five years. We all began in a writing class together, and all of us have remained serious about writing. My best advice is to stay in really good communication about everything: how the critiques are working, time management, goals, even interpersonal things. We've always found open communication to be one of the keys to our success! (Even when it's not easy, it's always better if you talk about it.)

Dawn Simon said...

I'm loving the comments!

Critique groups are amazing to me. There's so much trust and sharing involved. Whether I get good or bad news, my crit buddies are always there.

I've been so fortunate to find two incredible critique groups. THANK YOU to the ladies in both groups!!

Suma Subramaniam said...

Great post Dawn. I have two critique-support groups and I think both are awesome!

Suma Subramaniam said...

Great post Dawn. I have two critique-support groups and I think both are awesome!


Susan Fields said...

I used to belong to a critique group that met at a library, but I was never comfortable with it. I suppose I needed to stick it out a while longer, but I was a new writer and very insecure, and though the members were nice, they didn't really go out of their way to make me feel welcome. I think that's very important in a group like that, since it's such a personal thing to share your writing with others. Then I joined an online group of friends I had met at a week-long writing workshop, and that was better, though we rarely send anything out for critiques anymore. What works best for me is having individual CPs who will read my entire ms and I read theirs. These are almost all people I've met online through blogging. Luckily there are lots of different ways to get that all-important feedback, so hopefully everyone can find something that works for them.

Dawn Simon said...

Thanks, Suma! I'm happy you have two awesome groups!

Susan, it's true: different things work for different people. It's great you have critique partners you trust. Individual critique partners can give critiques and support as well. Thank you for pointing that out!

I know I need someone else's eyes on my work. I met with one of my groups just this morning and one of the things someone caught was a place where I contradicted myself. I'm sure I wouldn't have realized it on my own!

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

You're so lucky to have something like this! I would love to have a writer's group in the area. Talk about major support!

WritingNut said...

This is absolutely amazing! You have a wonderful group.. I think it would be great to have something like this... this support is invaluable :)

Dawn Simon said...

Field's End is a treasure. They offer classes taught by incredible people (for example, I took one class taught by David Guterson and one by Laura Kalpakian), AND they have free monthly Writers' Roundtables. I've met lots of writer friends through Field's End. Great group!