Pinnacles and Pitfalls of Writers Groups

Pinnacles and Pitfalls of Writers Groups

Though I obviously LOVE writing partners and writers groups, I’m also a huge fan of spreading the word about the need to find the RIGHT critique partner or critique group. Not all writers groups are made equal, and you shouldn’t settle for anything less than perfect. A negative experience or dynamic can do more harm than good to your writing and your confidence in your writing.

Today’s guest post comes from Ladies Who Critique member Cyndi Pauwels. She’s telling us about the pinnacles and pitfalls of writers group using her own experience. Don’t forget to leave a comment and tell us about your own pinnacles and pitfalls!

 

[Laura’s note:Aren’t we all this contented when we write? (!) Image courtesy of shootingstarsmag.blogspot.com]

 

Guest Post: Cyndi Pauwels

Writing is a solitary business. We spend hours upon hours alone, immersed in an imaginary world that can become more real than the one we physically inhabit, crafting phrases and sentences into a semblance of mental clarity and grafting them onto a blank page. Eventually, for most of us, the tales of our imagination are ready to be shared. But with whom? Mothers are usually far too approving, ready to hang even the roughest effort on the fridge with a fluffy kitten magnet. If willing, spouses and roommates are convenient, but they’re not always the best judge of character development and plot holes. For more concrete results, excellent sites like Ladies Who Critique offer a way to connect to those with similar backgrounds and experience levels.

 

Each of these possibilities is useful in its own way, but to grow as writers, and sometimes to shore up our sanity, we need more. We need an experienced viewpoint, a patient teacher, and a calming voice. We need a writers group.

 

My weekly group is my lifeline. Part beta readers, part critique partners, part support group, we’re a fluid mix of six to eight struggling authors who share evaluations, encouragement, and kick-in-the-pants accountability. Our regulars each bring a different strength: Tami’s English teacher background corrects our grammar, Lori focuses on continuity, Jim ruthlessly eliminates excessive adjectives, and James shows us how to set a compelling backdrop. I’m a not-so-closeted punctuation junkie, and I’ve been told I craft authentic dialogue. We complement each other, and after almost two years together, we’re a family.

 

If you don’t have a group, ask around at conferences (you do attend writer’s conferences, yes?) or your local bookstore. Although I hesitate to encourage any of us to get lost in social media, Facebook queries can be helpful as well. My group has its own (closed) FB page where we share links to interesting blogs, submission outlets, and workshop possibilities. It helps knowing a familiar and sympathetic ear is only a click away.

 

But as in any venture involving fragile human egos, use caution! As much as I adore my current tribe, I’ve also been in groups that were toxic. One such biweekly meeting many years ago was led by a frustrated community college teacher who wanted everyone to write her way, and bow to her self-aggrandized expertise. We disbanded, finally, after one young lady caused an insurmountable rift by trying to pass off chunks of writing from a Dean Koontz novel as her own. More recently, another group I test-drove for a few sessions had a bully who castigated me in no uncertain terms for questioning his obsession with what appeared to be unnecessary graphic violence. Needless to say, I politely bowed out.

 

Run from such toxic groups. Run from groups that try to rewrite your stories, to fit you into a mold that warps your personality or stifles originality. Almost as bad are those gatherings that are little more than pep rallies. Mom can do that for you, and she might have cookies.

 

Whether you meet once a week or monthly, share pages ahead of time by email or read aloud when gathered, the mechanics of the group aren’t nearly as important as the personalities and intent. When you find (or create!) the right mix of people, seeking, questioning, prodding each other along, striving to learn something at every meeting, you’ll know.

 

Because your writing will improve. And that’s our goal, isn’t it?

My thanks to Ladies Who Critique for allowing me to guest post on their wonderfully useful site. Their matchmaking was so appreciated when I needed a new set of eyes to tell me why my novel kept garnering rejections instead of yeses. The critique partner I found is a welcome addition to my network (Thanks, Marianne!). Follow my weekly ramblings at http://cpatlarge.blogspot.com

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7 thoughts on “Pinnacles and Pitfalls of Writers Groups

  1. Thanks for stopping by Cyndi! As I said in my intro, it’s important for us all to keep shopping around until we find the right fit. Don’t settle for ill-fitting jeans or writers groups!

  2. Great advice Cyndi. It can be difficult to find the right critique partner and much harder to find a group that clicks. When you do find the right partner everything works well and we have to keep looking for the right group. Like any group of friends, you are going to find different personalities that mesh wonderfully. Thanks Cyndi! 🙂

    • @Marianne – I’ve never heard of a writing group that had a moderator. What an interesting concept. A bit more formal that I would be comfortable. I hope you’ll continue looking for a group. The first one I found was near a large University and I felt like the writers were not serious so I faded away. I’ve found one now – actually several, through contacts made with the November is National Novel (writing) month (NANOWRIMO for short). But one particular group seems to resonate with both the genre I’m interested in as well as the maturity, dedication, and interest in improving their craft. I hope you’ll visit different groups until you find a home.

  3. Because I am an introvert I have difficulty processing in a group. Two hours after a presentation I’m thinking of all the things I should have said! Mainly for that reason I find a one on one, or and internet relationship far more fulfilling of my needs. I can take the time to process the information given me and craft a much more meaningful response.

    Additionally, in face to face groups, I have had a difficult experience where one of the group, someone who had yet to put pencil to paper, constantly sought advice as to what she should write. Perhaps that was the moderator’s fault for letting her go on, nevertheless it lead to the group’s breakup. Again, a fully developed one to one critique is much less prone to this kind of problem.

  4. Well stated Cyndi. I’d be lost without our group and would have long ago thrown in the towel on more than one venture. I had been a member of a group before joining yours/ours, and we broke up because of life conflicts as much because few beyond myself was truly dedicated to pursuing writing to publication.
    I find the groups invaluable, even when I don’t always agree with the suggestions made. It’s made me a better writer, often going back days later and realizing the group was right. For me, critique groups are a must have, but remember whose story it is and remain true to that.

  5. Living in small town USA limits my availability to competent critique partners, so I must rely on on-line groups. I’ve been in two seperate ones, and both have fallen apart because of personality conflicts as well as dedication issues. You are so right when you talk about the chemistry of the members! Seems like I’m always on the prowl for the right combination. 🙂


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