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Five Reasons to Join a Writers’ Group by Benjamin Thomas

5reasons-WritingGroupsI remember seeing the ad flash across Instagram…or Twitter. Maybe it was Facebook? Apparently I don’t remember it all that well. But I can see the ad. The call for writers to come join a local group and start critiquing each other’s work. Network and get out there. Maybe do a little promotion along the way. Learn a thing or two about marketing. I was hesitant to say the least. But in the end, I decided to go for it, and I couldn’t be happier with that decision. So, if you’re struggling with whether or not to join an in-person writers’ group, here are five reasons why I think you should:

1. It’ll Get You Out of Your Shell—sort of:

Most writers are introverts. This is not a secret. Being introverted makes it hard to share a project, receive criticism (and properly give criticism), or generally socialize and network with other people. This is a major sticking point for writers in today’s publishing landscape because even those who have small publishers behind them, or larger presses and agents, the expectation is that, to some degree, the writer will be responsible for promotion, marketing, and outreach.

So, how do we get a shy, wall-flower to put themselves out there in a world filled with viscous social media comments, bad reviews, and generally negative people? Baby steps. First one? Associate with like-minded people. With individuals who share the same goals, aspirations, and fears. Strength in numbers, am I right? By getting out there and being exposed, putting work up for critique, and listening to comments on our darlings, the introvert in all of us tends to become increasingly less timid.

2. Learn to Take and Give Proper Criticism:

While this dovetails off point one, I think it’s important enough in its own right that it deserves a shout out. Let’s just say it: criticism sucks. You’ve worked on a story for months. Dreamt it. Wrote it. Re-wrote it. Crossed a few lines off and then revised some more. You’ve put in a lot of work on this near-future sci-fi fantasy crossover with just enough romantic involvement to be able to call it romance if the right market opens up.

So, naturally, you submit it to your writers’ group thinking a half-dozen unanimous nods of approval and praise will re-enforce what you’ve known all along: this baby’s going to win a Nebula. Two weeks go by and it’s time for the group discussion. . . It’s good, but the plot kind of dwindles in this section, and there’s a big hole right here. Continuity is lost when the third alien robot is mentioned. I liked the characters, but I was lost from the beginning. Horror. Pure stomach-dropping discouragement. Except it shouldn’t be.

Good criticism is meant to be constructive (hence why it’s called constructive criticism). Honest feedback that is given with the hope of elevating a piece should not be met with despair. I know, easier said than done, but believe me, if four people say something is an issue, it’s an issue. Writers have to remember that their stories exist in their heads in much greater detail than they do on the page, and other readers aren’t privy to that expanded stash of background info. Your writers’ group is a population sample of your general readership. Take what they say to heart, but don’t let it break your heart.

That being said, criticism needs to be given appropriately as well. Most writers’ groups, including my own local one, have guidelines or bylaws on what is and isn’t an acceptable critique. I didn’t like this. This was bad. Not a good critique. Why didn’t you like it? What is bad about it? The dialogue? The pacing? What would make it better? There are a bunch of resources on the web about giving good critiques, but the best piece of advice I ever read, and I can’t for the life of me remember where, so I apologize for not having a source, went something to the effect of: When critiquing a piece, never say ‘you,’ as in: ‘you have a cliché with these two characters that is kind of cringe worthy.’ Instead, direct the comment at the story itself: The piece doesn’t really work with this interaction; it feels too cliché. Remember, you’re critiquing the piece, not the writer.

3. Make Yourself Write:

I don’t care who you are, we’re all lazy at one point or another. You. Me. That guy in the grocery store. Even pres—never mind; we won’t go there. As writers, we’ve all heard the advice: just write. Write every day. Get the words on the page. It comes in so many different forms, but it all means the same thing: you can’t be a writer if you don’t write.

Well, that’s easier said than done with full-time jobs, part-time jobs, educational commitments, and familial responsibilities. And then, after all of that exhausting stuff, we’re expected to write and write and write. Not even that we’re expected to, but we actually really want to. We just don’t have the energy. So how do we harness that energy? Turn something we want to do into something we have to do. Allot the time by putting ourselves out there. When that new project at the nine-to-five rolls around, there are plenty of us who don’t want to do it. Please, I’d much rather be asleep under my desk. But I can’t do that because the report/dashboard/write-up is due, and if it’s not handed in, there are consequences.

Professional full-time writers are hindered by deadlines. So how do amateur, just starting out writers force themselves to make the time? Join a writers’ group. Most have an expectation that you will contribute at least once a month or on some kind of rotating schedule. If you don’t, you’re not only putting the others out, but you might lose your spot at the table, and you don’t want that! So, sign up to submit work; it will make you park your butt in the chair and scratch out a few thousand words. Then, once the creative juices are flowing, it will make it easier to get into a routine.

4. Cross-Genre Exposure:

Assuming you don’t seek out and track down a genre-specific writers’ group (I’ve never been a part of one, so I can’t speak too negatively about them), joining a critique circle will help expose you to other genres and styles of writing. What works for certain pieces. How some dialogue is portrayed. All of this can be taken back and applied to your own text.

A hardcore horror writer might learn something from a romance guru that can help elevate their own work in a way they never saw before. Maybe reading that memoir piece triggered an idea for a truly terrifying story. Or, it might just turn someone on to a different kind of book they didn’t know they enjoyed. Aside from His Dark Materials I was never much of a Young Adult reader. My critique group changed that. Reading through and enjoying several YA submissions has opened up my readership, allowing me to experience styles of writing that I never would have on my own.

And, if anything, getting critiqued from writers across different genres is extremely beneficial because, at the bedrock of it all, whether you’re writing romance, horror, science fiction, thrillers, or anything else, your story should be a human story that readers can relate to and empathize with.

5. An Increase in Resources:

Writing is a solitary endeavor. Yet, when you join a writers’ group, it becomes a collaborative effort. And not just with reading, writing, and critiquing. Let’s be real, there are a million resources for writers out there. Rambling posts offering advice from someone who thinks they know what they’re talking about (…..), different articles about how to market and promote your book, and entire novel-length works dedicated to helping people write better, get published, and hit the bestseller list.

But how do you sort out the booms from the duds? You don’t. There just isn’t enough time. My backlog of writing podcasts alone is ridiculous, and that’s something I can do at work or in the car! So share the responsibility.

A good writers’ group will have an agenda, a list of things they want to accomplish each meeting, and one of those should be marketing and promotion. Just a little bit at the end of each get together, once the critiques are done and feelings are hurt (see step two), people should wind down by sharing stories of what did and didn’t work for marketing, promotional resources, blog tour openings, different markets hosting calls for subs, etc. Things that everyone can learn from.

If the group you join (or maybe the one you start after reading this) doesn’t have time devoted to marketing, promotion, and the sharing of resources, what I would suggest—and has worked for the group I’m part of—is to make a private Facebook group that members can join and post articles that might be helpful for everyone. Tips and tricks of the trade. It will cut down on the staggering amount of information out there and funnel resources directly to you. Might just prevent you from falling down a rabbit hole. I mean, come on, we all know that when you Google “thriller book reviewers” a few hours later, you always wind up embedded in some conspiracy theory on Reddit or looking at satellite images of ancient Mayan ruins. . . That can’t just be me. Can it?

So take the leap. Make yourself write and make yourself submit for feedback. One thing writers have in common, you know aside from being shy introverts, is we all have a rejection collection. Some might be larger than others, but we all have them. Joining a writers’ group will help you turn the favor toward your acceptance pile. Just participate, take and give good criticism, and learn from each other. You’ll have some fun. And, if it’s unbearable, well bring margaritas. Most people like those.


IMG_4567Benjamin Thomas

is the author of Jack Be Quick, the bestselling medical thriller inspired by Jack the Ripper, and short stories found in One Night in SalemWinter TalesFlash Fiction Online, and more.

He’s an avid traveler, gamer, and animal lover.

Find Benjamin online: Goodreads | Twitter | Website

Jack Be Quick

JBQ-COVER

A picture scrawled in blood pushes paramedic Noah McKeen into a game of hide and seek with someone attempting to honor Jack the Ripper.

Tormented and controlled by little white pills and visions of the woman he had loved, Noah fights to control his sordid selfish behavior and stop a brutal reenactment of history’s most notorious serial killer.

IndieBound | Amazon | Kindle | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iBooks

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