I was recently being interviewed on the "Turning Readers into Writers" podcast with Emma Dhesi (episode forthcoming) and our chat turned specifically to Writing Communities.
I talk to a lot of folks who could potentially benefit from joining a writing group.
There's TONS of writing groups and communities out there.
Deciding on one can seem completely daunting. Where do you start?
Picking a group is a bit like dating. There's a few ways you can go about this and - from my vantage point - none of them are actually right or wrong. A match for someone won't be a match for everyone. As with most of my general life advice: you do what works for you.
My initial response to the question of "how do you find a writing group?" (basically: Google) may not be the most robust, so I decided to put together a more formal checklist of the criteria you can keep in mind if you are considering joining a writing group yourself.
Depending on where you are on your journey, you may be looking for completely different things and your responses may surprise you. They also may change over time, so remain flexible and open to your writing needs as they evolve.
Some items to consider:
Paid / un-paid. The pros of an unpaid group are fairly clear. The pros of a paid group are that you will likely develop a bit more feeling of commitment to attend once you have exchanged (monetary) energy. This will help with your own sense of accountability. (Like that 1:1 time with the trainer at the gym that you really don't feel you can bail on). You may also find others are a bit more invested, providing you with a steady sense of community.
Group size. Some people prefer larger groups where they can get lost in the crowd. The benefit here really coming together, lots of perspectives and no real spotlight on any one person. Others crave the intimacy of smaller groups. These groups tend to provide more individual attention to the issues you are facing and you will more than likely get lots more face time with the group's host.
Frequency and length of sessions. This one is all about your schedule. Do you have loads of time and find a daily writing regimen would keep you accountable? Are you working a day job and require a group that meetings in the evenings and on weekends? Do you want to squeeze in a 30 minute block or dedicate four hours in one sitting? There's an option out there for everyone's calendar.
Any expectations of participants. Are sessions peer-run or organized by an author, coach or facilitator? Are participants required to rotate responsibility for facilitating aspects of the sessions? What does this include? Are there additional requirements such as reading and critiquing others' work?
Sharing / critiquing writing. One concern that a lot of "first time" or "newbie" writers have is around the sharing of their work. This can be a fear that helps to stretch your comfort zone; however, if the fear is too great, it can prevent you from joining in the first place. Check in with your own comfort level and see where you are with this. Do you want to jump in the deep end and share? Do you want to be able to build up your trust with the group a bit first? Are you looking for a group specifically BECAUSE you want your work critiqued and improved? Find out: Is sharing your writing required? How often does this take place? Is it for critique and feedback?
Genre focus. Some writing groups are open to anyone. Others focus more on the craft so are a bit more specific to non-fiction, memoir, fiction, poetry etc. This can be especially helpful to those looking to share and receive critiques on their work. Other groups focus more on mindset, our inner critic, writer's block and personal accountability and genre is much less relevant. Some cater specifically to new writers. Consider what is beneficial to you.
Values and culture of the space. Can you get a sense of the values and the type of culture of the space? Does it align with yours? Are people welcoming and supportive? Does it feel more cutthroat? (For example, some may find the values in The Open Book Writing Circles to be a little 'woo woo'... while not our primary focus, topics that have come up in our conversations have included: dismantling racist systems, loathing the patriarchy, anti-hustle culture, mindful productivity, trauma, grief, social justice and healing. This is not for everyone).
I try not to have any hard and fast do's and don'ts about pretty much anything, but the one DON'T I would mention here would be: Don't commit to something for the long-term before you've had a chance to try it out first unless you are CONVINCED it is the right thing for you or you already have endorsement from (real) people you know already participating. Even then, be cautious.
And, finally, here's some bonus tips once you are in:
Connect with the host
Hang back a minute once you first arrive and get a sense of the environment / respect the culture that has come before you
Look at how you can add value versus simply taking what you need
A simple Google search, some time on Meetup.com, a LinkedIn review or a social media scan of #writinggroups #writingcommunity will yield you tons of options. Take some time to examine and explore. Get input from others and see what's a good fit for you.
Joining the "right" writing group should feel a bit like coming home.