Writing Exercises: "How to Find Your Writing Group"

Last week I began discussing writing groups, the importance and the many different kinds. Today I will focus, and of course cross-reference Greaney's guidence, on what to look for when searching for your writing group.

I'll begin with a list of where to go to find writing groups for any new-comers out there:

1) Check the bulletin board at your local library

May seem obvious (or not), but if there's one place on earth that will consistently have writers in attendance, its your local library.

2) Ask the librarians at your local library

Perhaps less obvious, but if you don't see anything on the bulletin board, definitely ask the librarians. Many libraries will offer spaces for writers groups to meet. As a result of this, they may have some leads towards writers in your areas.

3) Ask your independent or chain book stores

Writers hang out at book stores (duh). Some writers aren't lucky enough to live near a plentitude of independently owned book stores (present company included). Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, etc. will have book signings and, if they have cafés attached, will even host write-ins. No matter what kind of book store, they're bound to have leads you can follow.

4) Check your writing magazines

I'm subscribed to a plethora of writing magazines because they harbor all the info you're ever going to need: MFA's, listings for writing competitions, deadlines for submissions for publishing houses (indie and traditional). The classifieds is where it's at, especially in the following magazines: The Writer's Chronicle, Writer's Digest, Poets & Writers. Writer's groups post listings for local areas all the time and there are always listings for new members.

5) Campus bulletin boards

Junior college or big-time university, head over to the English and Liberal Arts departments (and of course your campus library) and search for those flyers.

6) Word of mouth

This one is the most obvious but do it anyway. This had been my most successful way of approaching a writing group. I make friends with writers because I love talking shop, especially when it gets me advice and opinion on craft. Start choosing your friends wisely and see if they want another member to their group because chances are, they're as desperate for a critique circle as you are.

7) Bulletin board at your local café/tea shops and community centers

Writers also hang out at coffee/tea shops. I have yet to see either without a bulletin board. As for community centers, renting the rooms tend to be free if you call or go in person. Community centers can be fun because chances are they will have a white board in there and markers to spare (I bring my own markers, just in case).

Either way, there are plenty of ways to find yourself a group and here are some ways to start tracking them down. After you have done that however, next comes the question of "How do I know this group is for me?"

Not to worry because I have yet another list (sick of these yet?) of things to consider when considering a writing group:

1) The first-date

This is what I personally call the "dating-period" of any new group. One of the most important things to determine before marrying a group is if you feel like you fit in (and are welcome). Every writer group out there worth its salt will feel equally the same way towards a newcomer, so always ask when reaching out to a group if you may sit in for one day to scope-out. Even paid groups will give you one free-bee.

2) What genres are the group members working in?

If you write high-fantasy fiction, there may not be a reason for you to visit a group that focuses on memoir (or maybe there is and I don't know it), but research your group. Some groups out there are not genre specific and blend well, which is always fun. Others will be very specific. Ask when you approach or do your own research.

3) What are the members doing when they're not writing?

This is an important question to answer because you want to be mindful of a group that is inhabited by, say, college students with more open schedules while you have a 9-5 work schedule. It gets complicated when your writing group has more time on their hands than you do. This is one of those problems that can make-it-or-break-it when it comes to your relationship with a writing group.

Its so much better when you have writers who also have jobs and work schedules similar to your own. Alternatively, if you are a college student with said free(er) time, look for other students, chances are they'll be able to match your schedule with more consistency.

4) Is this a beginner, intermediate or all-level group?

This is also important to determine. Personally, I'm not sure where I'm at skill-level wise. I'm working on a book, have published short stories in the past and have a few fanfictions here and there popular enough to get me minimal attention, but I'd hardly say I'm some kind of expert.

I only ever attend all-level groups. They feel more real to me, maybe because I get to witness seasoned writers with a bunch of experience and newer writers with fresh ideas all in the same room. That being said, beginning writer groups may not be able to always provide you with great feedback (a skill you learn one way or another).

Alternatively, "expert writers" (for the lack of a better term) will give much better quality critique, albeit some snobbery along the way. Not to say all experienced writers are snobs, but my past experience has landed me in all-level critique groups for a reason--let's leave it at that. This is definitely a preference each writer will have individually, so test it out and see what works for you.

5) How and how much writing is shared per person and what format?

Truthfully, all of this is determined by the individual group (whether meeting in-person weekly, quarterly, online, etc.) and I won't be able to provide a concrete answer. The best I can say is this: do your research, ask your questions when meeting the group and check if the groups have guidelines printed out for new members already. In my experience, groups I have been apart of ranged from everyone having to have a maximum of twenty pages to simply bringing an undetermined page-count of a chapter of whatever you're working.

Nine times out of ten, this will be determined in the group, by the group. A lot of negotiation will occur when you arrive. Some groups are intense about word counts, others page counts, others are more lucid and just want chapters, etc. The only way to know is to head out and inquire.

Next week I'll discuss what to do on your first day of meeting your group, what supplies to bring and how to prepare for day two--or your next day one. For now, start tracking down your groups for a positive first date.

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