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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Finding a Writer’s Group that Really Works


feedbackIn response to a recent post about writer’s groups, Teresa commented that she connected with an online group, but when she signed on recently, she discovered “no one was doing the challenge. I got mad and let them know it. Then I didn’t do any better, wrote zip last night and surfed instead. Trivia.”

Teresa’s reaction to her online group demonstrates the power of mirror neurons; the company we keep can boost us up or bring us down.

Teresa added “I’d like to build the group into something like this ideal [described in the post]. I don’t know how.”

There’s a certain amount of luck in finding other writers you can build an effective writer’s group with, but there’s plenty of work we can do to make the group work. The Appendix to Around the Writer’s Block details what I’ve learned and observed about writer’s groups. I’ll excerpt and expand on parts of the Appendix in this and upcoming posts.

What Kind of Writer’s Group Do You Want: Critique or Support?

In AWB, I wrote:

“When most people think of a writer’s group, they think of a writer’s critique group where members read each other’s manuscripts and give feedback on the writing. A support group is focused more on sustaining the process of writing than on evaluating the quality of any particular piece of writing.

“This isn’t to say you can’t get support from a critique group or that you can’t get insightful feedback from a support group; it’s a question of the group’s primary purpose.”

Why Would You Want a Support Group?

check-in canstockphoto1873204 (2)Many writers make the mistake of dismissing support groups as a place to hold hands and give each other easy approval without the rigor of a true critique. It’s true that some writer’s groups become more social get-togethers than focused discussions of writing. But this can happen with both critique groups and support groups.

Support groups can be just as challenging and rigorous as a critique group, just in a different way. Instead of listening to others tell you what they think about your writing, the group listens to you be honest about your writing process.

When you get clear about what your commitments are and what you do to honor those commitments, you have the information you need to hold yourself accountable and keep improving your process. Believe me that is just as challenging as revising a piece in response to your colleagues’ feedback. After all, if you don’t have a reliable writing practice, you may never get around to doing that revision.

Why I Recommend You Choose a Writer’s Support Group First

Both kinds of writer’s groups are valuable, but unless you’re already in each of the two kinds of writer’s groups, you’ll need to choose what kind of group to join or form first. In AWB, I observe:

“Writers do need feedback at times, but you can make substantial progress without a critique group; writers always need support and accountability.”

I happen to be of the opinion that good writing comes from rewriting. The better we get about showing up consistently for our writing, the more opportunities we have for rewriting, and the better our writing becomes.

I also happen to be of the opinion, based on years of experience as a writer myself and as a teacher and coach of thousands of writers, that there are times in the development of a piece of writing when the last thing the writer needs is other people’s opinions and criticisms.

If you’re in a critique group, be sure the piece you’re planning to submit for critique is ready for feedback. If it is, identify what level of feedback the piece needs.

Even more importantly, be sure you’re really want and need feedback. If you’re inclined to dismiss that with “Of course I want feedback. What else would I be in a writer’s group for?” read this.

Next post we’ll take a look at principles that make it easier to form a new or re-form an existing writer’s group of either type.

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  1. Platinum Rule for Effective Writer’s Groups | The Bane of Your Resistance - July 30, 2014

    […] a recent comment, Teresa asked how to form an ideal writer’s group. I made recommendations in my last post, but it really comes down to the Platinum […]

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