Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Checklist for Considering Writers' Groups


People have a variety of viewpoints when it comes to belonging to the writer’s group or workshop. Some authors like Dean Koontz abhor them. Some say they will cause you to quit writing or destroy your writing style. Others say they could not write without them.

I have experienced both points of view. Over the years, I have belonged to three writer’s groups. The first was the Frisco (Texas) Writer’s Group. It was a hybrid group. Some sessions focused on the learning the business of writing. Other sessions were for critique. Over time, I outgrew this group of mainly want to be writers. I attended the group from 2006 through 2009.

While attending the first group, I learned of the Dallas-Fort Worth Writer’s Workshop. It is a larger group with many full-time and published writers. They sponsor the DFW Writer’s Convention. In 2008, I attended convention.

I joined the DFW Writer’s Workshop in 2009. I was a paid member through 2012. For several years, I drove twenty-five miles each way through heavy Dallas – Fort Worth traffic and freeway construction to attend the group.

The meetings had a set agenda. They began with an introduction of guests and new members. Next was a time of sharing submissions, rejections, being asked to send a full manuscript, and getting an agent. You could also sign-up to read. You were assigned to critique groups for the evening. There you read. Then others commented on your work. You did not respond to their comments. The comments were extremely helpful and required a thick skin at times. The group has been around since 1977. Over the years, members have had over 300 traditionally published books. The group charges $100 per year to be a member. It meets 52 weeks a year.

I had published over two-dozen magazine articles before joining the group. I credit the group with keeping me motivated. It caused me to look at my writing at a level I did not know existed. It provided encouragement as I witnessed fellow members being published. The group was a first-amendment group where you could write anything. The critique group helped me write, as I needed something new to read each week. While in the group, I published over a dozen pieces. I also completed the 80,000 words book that I am currently shopping.

In 2011, I joined Wholehearted Writing Group. It is located less than two miles from my day job. The location was the reason for joining. The group is more about writing prompts than analyzing or working on your current project. It meets 26 times a year with the cost of $10 per meeting.

Whether you are joining the writers' group to gain new friends, network, or to improve your craft and motivation, you need to make sure it meets your needs. Below are some points to consider when selecting, joining, and attending a writer's group.
1. Does the writer’s workshop have in writing defined goals?
  • Does the group know where it is going?
  • Does it regularly meet?
  • Are members submitting, progressing in the craft and publishing?
2. Does the group start on time and stay on mission? I will use the DFW Writer’s Workshop that I belonged to as an example.
  • The group starts on time – 7 PM. It began with a large group session.
  • They recognize guests, ask them what they write, and how they found out about the workshop.
  • They ask for rejections followed by asking for submissions.
  • They ask is anyone has sold articles or gotten a contract for their manuscript.
  • After the large group session, they break into small critique groups.
  • Writer's read for ten minutes followed by a critique of five minutes.
  • They have a monitor for a group who times and moderates the readings and critiques. The monitor keeps the group on track.
  • The group ends at 9:30 PM. Ending on time respects the participants.
3. Does the group have an interest in your writing or is it just a niche group?
  • Is it a first-amendment group allowing freedom of expression?
  • Does the group focus only on fiction or non-fiction?
  • Does it require you to filter your writing through the scope of the group? For example, you would not want to attend a Christian writer’s group if you write erotica.
4. Are there rules for people whose work is critiqued to follow?
  • Having guidelines is essential.
  • People get defensive when others are telling them what they did wrong.
  • The man or woman receiving the critique needs to have rules to follow.
  • We have him or her listen with no response or rebuttal.
  • You need to listen to what people have to say about your writing and learn from it. 
5. Does the organization allow you time to network and develop relationships with others in the group?
  • Do the group members like each other?
  • Are they happy to see you and urge you to participate?
  • Does the group assimilate new members?
  • Does everyone get to read?
  • If the group members spend more time telling you how great they are or what they hope to do instead of staying on schedule and mission, find a different group.
6. Should I pay to attend a writer’s group?
  • Most writers’ groups in the USA are free and run by volunteers. Fee-based groups are also common.
  • One of the most expensive writer’s groups in the USA is the Original Los Angeles Writers Group™. The cost for new members is $475 a year while returning members get a break at $450. That is about $9.00 per week.
  • The Kansas City Writer’s Critique Group meets in ten-week sessions with each session costing $65.00 ($5.50 per week).
  • The DFW Writer’s Group in Texas is $100 per year (paid in advance). You must be a paid member to read.
  • The Burlington Vermont Writer’s Group cost $12.00 per month.
  • Wholehearted Writing in Dallas, Texas is $10 a session.
  • I have attended pay and free groups. Most pay groups are very polished, professional, stay on task honoring the attendee’s time by starting and stopping on time plus having a set break. Many are connected to educational institutions or are legal nonprofits with a constitution by-laws and elected leadership from the paid membership that manage / lead the group. They are not social in nature and have had an evaluation element. The leader in the pay group may receive your writing assignment in advance. They check your style, grammar, and transitions as a proofreader or outside editor. They may lead you in structured revisions.
While people have a variety of viewpoints when it comes to belonging to the writer’s workshop, a writer’s group is not for everyone, but it could be what you need to get to the next level.
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