by C. Patrick Schulze
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Writing is a lonely life which is populated by little more than your imagination and a keyboard. Due to this inherent solitude, one of the best options for a writer who wishes to improve his craft is to join a writers' or critique group. The secret, as with so much in life, is to find the group that fits your personality.
Should you decide to join a writers group, you may wish to look for a series of group characteristics before you join.
The first important aspect to a group that comes to mind is the number of writers who possess skills better than yours among the members. Unless your goal is altruistic in nature, why join if there is nothing for you to learn?
There are two basic types of writer's groups, though you may find any number of variations within them. That is, some are well-organized and relatively strict, while others have more of a fluid nature. I find the more organized is more favorable as it makes the best use of my time.
With the first type, most everything is regulated. The number of members is somewhat limited, someone allocates who brings their writing and when, there is a limited time to discuss any specific material, and so on. The other is less structured and anyone brings what they wish to have critiqued. Meetings are not mandatory and the group expands and contracts in size according to the commitment of its members.
Some groups take work home or post via email, then bring their critiques to the next meeting. Others critique on the fly at the meeting.
Beyond all this, there are on-line groups, face-to-face groups, groups focused upon a single genre, local groups, national groups and many, many other subtypes. The variations are unending.
No one type is better than the other and they all have their benefits and liabilities. It depends upon your personality and your skill level as to which one works best for you.
What should you look for in a writers' group?
In all cases, it should have something to offer you. For example, I'd think it's important the group assist you in growing your skills.
Does the group have defined goals that mesh with your personal outlook? If they don't know what they wish to accomplish, you'll probably get less out of the association.
Do they have an interest in your type of writing? You'll learn more that relates to you if they do.
Do they screen members or can anyone participate? I found one group that required a writing test prior to acceptance.
What levels of writing proficiency is represented by the membership? Do they only allow published authors or can anyone join? You'll learn more, I think, if a variety of levels are in attendance.
Is it a social club or a serious writer's meeting? Why be there if they are not focused on their work?
Do they have critique guidelines? If not, the advice you receive may be haphazard in nature.
Do the members seem to appreciate, if not like, each other? Do they seem to appreciate your appearance? If they do not in either case, the critiques you receive may be of lesser value.
Each group, as you might suspect, has its unique personality and the real secret is to find one that meshes well with your personality.
What might your fellow members expect from you?
First, expect to receive, (duh), criticism of your work. With luck, it will be valuable.
Expect to criticize others' work. Are you capable of giving honest, useful criticism of another's masterpiece? Do you know what to look for and how to present a disparaging remark so it is accepted in the light which you intended?
Your advice should be honest and to the best of your knowledge.
They anticipate you will be helpful and encouraging.
People will expect you to be there on time and to participate.
Your fellow members will anticipate that you are prepared.
Regardless the type of group you find useful, most all of them offer the chance to make contacts, improve your skills and have the potential to make your lonely writer's life a bit more enjoyable.
Do you have any interesting writers' groups stories you'd like to share?
Until we meet again, know I wish for you only best-sellers.
C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel "Born to be Brothers"