You’ve decided you want to join a writing group. But what kind of writing group? There are so many combinations out there! Online or in-person, critique or support, small or large—and in what combination? The possibilities are endless!
Here’s a brief summary of the 11 different types of writing groups. A more complete description can be found in my upcoming book. (Sign up to hear when it comes out!)
1) Workshops & Critique Groups
This is what many people picture when they think of a writing groups—a bunch of writers who gather to share and critique one another’s work. These groups are most helpful when the members gel as people, and the members are at varying, but similar, levels in their careers. When seeking a group you want some people more advanced than you are and a few who aren’t as far along as you are. These kind of groups may be highly structured, and they may require a lot of writing (to have something to share) and reading outside of meetings themselves. Some groups operate solely online, with members using a file sharing service to swap work and feedback.
2) Support Groups
Never underestimate the power of a group of people who understand what you’re going through! Writing is such a solitary act, and people who don’t write often don’t get it. So it’s important to make friends or find a group who do know what you mean when you say you’re hunting for an agent, or that your self-published book is a best-seller but it’s not on the New York Times list. Again, this can be online or off.
3) Get-Work-Done Groups
Inspired by what National Novel Writing Month terms a “write-in”, these are groups that meet with the express purpose of writing words. Often each writer has an independent project. Usually the group gathers at a set time, says hello and chats for a bit, then everyone starts writing. The group may set a timer for work and breaks where chatting is allowed, or it may be less structured. There’s more camaraderie and peer pressure to work in a group that meets in person, but a lot of people also have virtual write-ins with online friends. Many writing retreats fall under this category.
4) Challenges & Prompts Groups
Some groups have a specific challenge in mind, like National Novel Writing Month, or they meet specifically to give the group a writing prompt and see how everyone answers it. Challenges and prompts can be great motivation, and make you stretch your skills as a writer. Some groups opt to share their results for critique, and some are more support-oriented. These work equally well online and in person.
5) Education Groups
These groups are all about learning more about the publishing industry and/or writing craft. Often members of the group will take turns teaching or leading discussions, or the group may bring in an outside expert (who may be paid with membership fees). Some groups operate more like book clubs, where members will all read or watch the same material and then discuss it. These tend to work better in-person, but online discussion groups can work too.
6) Networking Groups
Often found through conferences and professional organizations, networking groups are all about increasing the circle of who you know. Having a nice chat with an editor over cocktails isn’t going to guarantee your book gets published, but it may grease the wheels so that editor pays more attention to your submission. Networking is also important for writers who are looking for critique partners or who otherwise want to ‘level up’ their craft or industry know-how. Exposing yourself to people across the publishing industry can help you become an informed and savvy writer.
7) Reading Series & Sharing Groups
Usually held in-person, these groups meet specifically for the purpose of members reading their work to an audience. A reading series is an regularly recurring event, whereas a salon or coffee house event may be more sporadic. Either may have an open mic, where anyone can step up to read, or they may require you to sign up ahead of time. If they’re very popular they may screen work beforehand and curate selections.
8) Genre and/or Age Category Specific Groups
Every corner of the writing world is a little different—nonfiction vs fiction vs poetry, for instance, have vastly different needs. Short and long form works differ. Genres differ. And a book for adults will have different conventions from a children’s picture book. Any of these make a great focal point for a writing group. With these groups you can learn what’s typical for your area of interest, and get more targeted feedback and support.
9) Professional Organizations
The biggest of these groups have grown to the point of being business entities or non-profits. Examples include the Romance Writers of America (RWA), the Society of Childrens’ Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), and the Authors Guild. These groups’ missions are usually to help members further their knowledge and opportunities. Some, like the Authors Guild, may even offer group-approved legal assistance. If you write in a genre or age group with a large professional organization and you’re a querying writer it can be a mark in your favor to be a member, as it shows dedication. It’s also fine to wait to join an org, as most have membership fees. Many have both an online presence and real-world meetings.
10) Indie Publishing Groups
Technically a subset of Professional Organizations, Indie Publishing Groups come in many different flavors. Some are dedicated to marketing, others to the mechanics of self-publishing, and still others to more general support and feedback. What they have in common is that the memberships are all indie (or hybrid) publishers, in charge of producing their own work and sharing it with the world. Because DIY publishing is so vast and has such a steep learning curve there are lots of groups available, primarily online.
11) Sporadic or Annual Events
Conferences, festivals, retreats, and other more irregular events fall into this category. These groups tend to be less cohesive, with more turnover of membership. Nevertheless, if you attend regularly you’ll recognize previous attendees and can strike up positive relationships. These tend to be in-person events, but may be online as well.
As you can probably guess, there’s a lot of overlap in these categories. A circle of four may share their work online once a month for critique, and hold a semi-annual retreat as schedules allow. A professional org may have thousands of members, hold an annual conference, and host quarterly education lectures.
Finding the right writing group for you can take some trial and error, but it’s worth putting in the legwork.
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