Sunday, October 10, 2010

To Group or Not To Group

When I first started writing, I thought there were two kinds of writers in this world: published and not. I was in the "not" category for what seemed like a lifetime, and during that entire period, that binary categorization worked for me.

Then I lucked out and got published and after joining a few organizations and groups, I discovered a new kind of binary category: those who are in writers' groups and those who are not. And I am curious to know, whenever I meet a new writer, which option that writer follows.

I know quite a few authors who swear by their groups, whether the group goes by the name of critique, writers', or support group. They tell me that going to regular meetings keeps them on a schedule, gives them the discipline to write the installments that must be presented to the other group members, and sets up a natural framework for feedback and information sharing. It all sounds ideal. What could be healthier than a bunch of like-minded people helping each other with the lonely and difficult task of writing?

On the other hand, I am not in a writers' group and am not likely to join one in either the near or distant future. While I admit that writing is a solitary, sometimes lonely activity and that feedback is a good thing, I just do not have it in me to meet regularly with other folks to share and discuss my latest project. Call me crazy: I feel that if I tell the story before its time, I will take the wind out of its sails and destroy the magic. I tend to feel that my stories are not ready to stand on their own under scrutiny of any kind until they are at least at the completed first-draft stage. Until then, letting other people poke at them and analyze them makes me feel like I am putting bits and pieces of my children under a microscope.

I am a fan of quite a few best-selling writers who swear by writers' groups and encourage authors at all levels to find a good one. I read Lawrence Block's advice on it back in the 1980's. James Rollins routinely credits his group, and Douglas Preston talks about being an active member in a Santa Fe group for nearly 10 years.

On the other hand, Stephen King says he will not discuss anything he is still working on, even with his wife. Anne Tyler is horrified at the thought of talking any story she is still completing, and equally horrified hearing others talk about their ongoing work in front of her. Maybe it's a form of Emily Dickinson syndrome, I don't know. I just know I don't have the writers' group mentality.

Currently, I am in the yin of yet another double-sided category and trying to cross the barrier into the yang of it. Uh, anyone else out there still on the search for an agent?


  1. I'm in writers groups...and I'm not.

    I do attend three, actually, and bring work for critique. But generally it is ONLY my short non-fiction pieces (personal experiences stories, such as one would find in Chicken Soup for the soul) or the occasional short fiction story. The immediate feedback on a short-order project is great.

    I find critique groups a wonderful resource for encouragement. It's nice to get into a group of people who look at you enthusiastically when you rattle on and on about writing--rather than giving that glazed-over look you get from people who just don't understand.

    BUT, for longer projects, I could never utilize a critique group. Writing a chapter at a time, so it can be scrutinized and picked apart before getting to the next one...which I can't bring until the next month. And how could I get a full novel critiqued in less than three years with this system? For bigger projects I swap full-manuscript critiques with other novelists.

    So, honestly, I fall into both categories :).

    As far as the agent answer is yes. Actually, I'm on the lookout for either an agent OR a publisher that will read my work without an agent.

  2. I belong to writer's groups and have learned a lot about the business of publishing from them. I also belong to a critique group that has been in existence for about 20 years. At present I think maybe six of the dozen are unpublished. Others have dropped out or moved on but out success rate has been good. I do bring works to read there and they often pick up on things that are my weaknesses. I used to write alone and really didn't start selling steadily until I found the group.

    Now looking for an agent. Been there, done that and never want to walk that road again.

  3. I belong to two critique groups that have helped in polishing my work.

    I've also been querying agents because they can submit your books to publishers that accept only agented work. I'm also submitting to publishers on my own, because my small Indie publishers have been good to me.

  4. I belong to one on-line writing group which has helped. I also have another one where I can bounce ideas/things off with.

    I'm like Bev, so far small Indie publishers have helped me though I'm still on the lookout for an agent. The last two summers I've been a reader for an agency which has also helped me see what's involved there.

  5. I envy writers who have found their ideal writers group. I'm a loner like Ophelia. Letting others dissect my WIP would be like allowing other people to paint on my canvas. Instead -- when I feel the manuscript is ready, I call on kind and generous "readers" and rely on their feedback.

  6. While I am not in a critique group, I am a member of the MuseItUp Publishing Author's group which is extremely supportive and active. We YA writers have even started our own group blog (grog) called It is something similar to this one, but not nearly as well developed. . . yet. I like being part of a loose group.