If you’re fearfully approaching your writing life this year, one decision could change your life and your writing.
While this decision should be cautiously made, and you may experience some trial and error in the process, I strongly advise you to consider my suggestion: join a writers group this year.
Years ago, I joined an in-person, flesh-and-blood writers group through a local arts program known as Art House Dallas. We met for two years. We studied inspiring passages about writing. We contributed chapters to a collaborative project that was outside most of our comfort zones. We listened to each other’s stories of failure and success. Multiple members finished their book-length projects at the time.
Most of all, we encouraged one another to keep pursuing the calling of writing that is both so challenging yet so rewarding.
That group made me believe I was a writer.
You need other writers
Since then, I’ve become a writing instructor with Writing Workshops Dallas and a public speaker for writers groups and writing retreats.
In the summer of 2018, I attended the God’s Whisper Farm Writers Retreat. I led a breakout session, but the most memorable moment reminded me of our deep need for writing community.
During a time where small groups of five writers shared pieces of their work for immediate feedback, Maria shared her poetry, humbly telling us in so many words, “I’ve rarely shared this with anyone.”
Her hands may have trembled as she handed each of us a printout of one of her poems.
We all read in silence. Then we all looked at her, then at each other.
I don’t recall who spoke first, but our feedback was unanimous: “Maria, this is excellent work. I don’t see how any of us could improve upon it.”
After discussing her poem, background, and motivation, we all sat in awed reflection. Then I may have been the one to ask the question that nearly brought tears to her face: “Have you considered pitching this to a publisher?”
Her facial response seemed to say, “That’s ridiculous. Who would be interested in poetry from some no-name woman in rural Virginia?”
Then she spoke with grace and humility, downplaying her significant way with words. After begrudgingly accepting our accolades, she spoke similar words to what I’d said myself before joining my first writers group: “I just never knew there were other people like me out there.”
Really, that’s the only reason you need to join a writers group: to know you’re not alone on this insane calling.
But, if you need more motivation to leave your desk, read on.
6 reasons to join a writers group
1. Joining a writers group will help you escape hibernation
If your writing life has been dormant for months (or even years), the right writers group will spring you into action — if not just to prove to your group members that you are, in fact, a writer.
2. A writers group will provide you with accountability
Some people can self-motivate, but even the most productive writers need goading from time to time. Procrastinating writers definitely need prodding. Untold thousands of people want to write a book every year; only a small percentage will ever meet their goal. What kind of writer do you want to be?
3. A writers group will motivate you to become a better writer
For instance, the Inklings was a famous writers group from 1933–1949 comprised of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and many other English writers. “Many passages of The Lord of the Rings found in the Inklings their first—and unfailingly appreciative—audience, much to the delight of their author.” The friendly but competitive spirit of the group spurred Tolkien to write a masterpiece.
4. A writers group provides inspiration
Hearing another author’s work-in-progress, celebrating their successes alongside them, or seeing how they overcome the inevitable frustrations of the writing life will all inspire you to keep at it. And knowing that you will have a group of people who will likewise celebrate alongside your successes is a great inspiration to do your best work.
5. Worthwhile writers groups ought also to educate you
While not every writers group is solely educational, education still happens, whether through hearing others’ feedback, learning how someone marketed their book or discovering a new tool or resource that’s just what you needed at the precise moment you needed it.
6. Finally, a writers group ought to be fun
Of course, it won’t always be fun, but if you’re going to get the most from your group, your group needs to be relationally healthy. And a sure sign of relational health is the group’s ability to have fun without losing sight of the reason for the group’s existence.
If your writers group is far too serious all the time, you might need to search for a new group. The writing life is hard enough without your dour writers group making it more so.
Now, since I’m sure you’re motivated to join a writers group this year, let’s get practical.
What kind of writers group should I join?
Not all writers groups are created equally. Not all are sanctioned by an organization. Not all are free to attend.
In other words, before you choose a writers group, do your homework.
Research the group online. Send an email or two to the group’s coordinator. Connect with current members of the group. Figure out if what the group offers and the kinds of people who attend are what you could commit to.
Unless the group quickly fails to meet your expectations, commit to the group for at least a year. You need that long to build the kinds of trusting relationships that the best writers groups need, especially for critique groups. (Wouldn’t you rather know the person pretty well who’s nicely ripping apart your work?)
Here are a few different types of writers groups:
- Critique groups tend to be the most common type of writing groups. In these groups, you’ll often bring multiple printouts of a sample of your work-in-progress for other attendees to read and critique. This feedback often happens out loud. If that’s your nightmare scenario, don’t join a critique group—yet. Then again, it’s better to receive in-person feedback from a few people you know than from the reading public on your launch day.
- Program-based writers groups, like the Nonfiction Authors Association, often bring in a guest speaker to discuss some specific aspect of the writing life. These are mainly educational meetings, but some will mix in critiques too. Again: do your homework.
- Discussion-based writing groups are informal meetings, sometimes without a set agenda, where writers can talk about anything they may be struggling with. They are essentially writing mastermind groups.
- Writing classes are not writing groups in the strict sense of the phrase, but they can be depending on how the organization or teacher leads the class. Some writing classes offer group help after the class, whether online or in person.
- Genre-based writing groups only accept authors who write for a specific genre, like romance or sci-fi. Their meetings focus on topics germane to their genres.
Finally, some writers groups may encompass two or more of these categories. That’s why you must research a group before attending so that your expectations are properly set.
Now, as to what kind of group you need to join, ask yourself, “What does my writing need right now?”
If your craft is lacking, join a critique group, an educational group, or attend a writing class.
If your motivation has dried up, join a programmatic writers group or a discussion-based group. If you’re serious about getting better within your particular genre, find a group centered on your genre.
If you have no idea what to choose, join the closest writers group to you that seems like a good fit and that you can commit to for at least a year.
That writers group just may change your writing life.
How to find a writers group
Lastly, how can you find a writers group?
Begin your search by locating in-person groups. Give yourself a reason to get away from your desk at least once a month.
Search “writers group” at Meetup.com. The results will show you writers groups within your preferred radius of your chosen city.
If you don’t find a compelling group at Meetup, search “[your city name] writers group” on Google. Click on the first group that seems interesting, then read as much as you can about them. For any lingering questions, email the coordinator. Put their next meeting on your calendar and force yourself to attend.
Lastly, for IRL writers groups, see if your city, area or state has an organization that aggregates writing groups. For instance, the North Texas area is spoiled by W.O.R.D., Writers Organizations ‘Round Dallas, a website that has compiled multiple writing groups in the area and sends out a monthly email newsletter listing every group’s events.
If you’re unable to find a worthwhile writers group within a drivable distance, or other issues may prevent you from venturing out of your house, online writers groups are a serviceable substitute. They can provide each of the same helpful attributes that real-life groups offer.
To that end, The Write Life offers these two excellent resource-filled articles for finding an online writing group:
- Instead of Bugging Your Family and Friends, Try These Writing Critique Groups
- 20 Facebook Groups for Writers You Don’t Want to Miss
The right writers group can launch your writing life into its next — and possibly its best — phase yet.
May you find your writing tribe soon!