Writing Groups

Extracted from a comment on a previous post:

Does Miss Snark have any thoughts on critique groups? As in the thoughtful post of 10.2 regarding agents, is a bad one or the wrong one more harm than good?

Critique groups can be great. A couple of really really good writers I know came out of a long running writing group called "Dangerous Writers" that evolved from a class taught by Tom Spanbauer -among them Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club), and Joanna Rose (Little Miss Strange).

I think it helps to have someone reading your work, and having to produce pages on a deadline. I also think if the wrong people are chomping on your work it can be deadly.

Writing groups can also be useless if it doesn't help you improve your work. Early in my career when I sent trying-to-be-of-help rejection letters I'd mention critique groups to writers who lacked really basic stuff..spelling, grammar, diction. One writer was so offended she wrote back and said she'd been in one for years. I almost laughed cause of course she'd missed the obvious conclusion; the group was wildly ineffectual if she was sending out work that made me think she needed one.

Sadly, I don't have clue one on how to find a good one and how to identify signs of a bad one.


kaolin fire said...

Early in my career when I sent trying-to-be-of-help rejection letters I'd mention critique groups to writers who lacked really basic stuff..spelling, grammar, diction. One writer was so offended she wrote back and said she'd been in one for years.

I've done the same thing to people. It's sad.

As for writing groups... I've been running one (moderating? something...) for ... holy hell, seven years--and I still don't know how to recommend writing groups to people. On the one hand, it's a very personal thing what will best suit a writer's needs/proclivities. On the other hand, anything other than vacuous praise should theoretically help. The one thing I'm _completely_ lost on how to give someone is a "critical eye". Some develop it, some don't.

The main thing I see writing groups being good for is providing an atmosphere for support and competition. Keeping people writing _tends_ to improve their writing with time, in my experience. Note (in my defense?) that support and vacuous flattery are not synonymous.

Oy, too little sleep--I'm sure I smell a foot nearing my mouth, but that could just be random brain cells firing.

Maria said...

Couple of thoughts on critiques or writing groups or feedback from wherever you get it:

If you hear the same thing twice from two unrelated sources, sit up and listen. This information is probably the most meaningful you will ever get.

Any writing group that spends time 1. writing during the meeting
2. drinking coffee/tea and swapping war stories
3. passing around ideas instead of having read the material beforehand...
isn't going to help much. Groups require structure and most of the work should be done before the meeting. Good help is hard to find. Try a few contests that provide feedback. Try it not because such contests will rocket you to the top, but because it gives you an idea of what critiques may or may not provide.

Dave Kuzminski said...

Make sure the group you're in knows something about copyright laws and tries to observe those properly. Hell, it wouldn't hurt if they also read a little on trademarks and patents, especially if they include anything that might infringe upon those in their writing.

Beyond that, it's nice to be nice to a wannabe, but if no one takes a few moments to help the wannabe writer actually improve and his writing each week shows absolutely no progress, then it's probably not doing anyone else any good, either.

~~Olivia said...

I'm still looking for a group. I've tried a few and been disappointed. sigh.... I'll keep looking. I guess it's like buying jeans, just keep trying them on until you find a pair that fit.

G. Jules Reynolds said...

Due to a travel-crazy job, I've only been in online groups... which have yet to work out for me. Maybe someday I'll find one that works. In the meantime, I have a group of writing friends who I can ask for crits when I'm having problems with something, or before something goes out to an agent or editor. It's working much better.

I think the best presentation I've seen of the problems inherent in writers groups is Brian Plante's Chronicles of the Garden Variety Writers. Definitely worth a read. (And, uh, if you have issues with the idea of what he's doing, skip to the last entry -- just trust me there.)

Motherhood for the Weak said...

I evaluate writing groups on the strength of the member's writing and on whether or not they show improvement as we go.

The same statistics that apply to the slush pile (i.e. only 1-3% will be any good) apply to writing groups. You've got to wade through the 97-99% of not great writing to find someone who can either match you in skill or help you grow.

It's a lot like looking for your soulmate--there are a lot of bloody awful first dates.

Date often. Meet as many writers as you can--the trick to a good critique group is building your own, one literary soulmate at a time.


Motherhood for the Weak said...

member's should've been members'


K said...

My creative writing classes in college were like writing groups. Each week we read and critiqued a different person's story. It's where I learned that some people just can't take criticism or editing. Those kind of people are no fun to have in a writing group. I personally adored workshop because it was hard to step back from my own writing. Having other people's opinions gave me new perspective on the whole thing.

Rachel Udin said...

Holly Lisle has a section in her free e-book about how to find a writing group and to know whether it's good or not.

It's called Mugging the Muse. It can be found here:
(Scroll to the end of the page.)

It will also give a writer's perspective on agents and ithe industry. A fiction writer, granted, but a writer the same.