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Getting help from writer's groups

Updated: Jul 6, 2018

It’s always fun to read the Acknowledgements section in the back of good books. So many people help an author to turn out a good book. Sometimes the author thanks her writing group. Where, I wondered does one find these groups? And what makes a good one?

A potential editor recently told me that I needed to find such a group immediately – that it would provide me with a lot of good advice for free. I wanted to scream when I heard this because I’ve been down this road–in fact, I have dawdled and wasted time on it. I’ve been in several groups. Sure, it’s often the blind leading the blind, but it’s also an opportunity to get some feedback from readers. Well, usually -- in one group a participant proudly announced that she doesn’t read!

A problem (for me) with many of the groups is that each person reads a segment for 5 or 10 minutes and then others comment. This can be a really inefficient way to move through a book. It’s good to read aloud but can’t an author do this alone and save everyone else’s time? It sure was a drag when 10 or 11 people showed up. Often, someone wanted to know more about something that was discussed the week before when they weren’t there. Maybe I should have been delighted that they cared but it was also frustrating.

In one group the people seemed mostly to bemoan the fact that they just didn’t have the time to write, apparently oblivious to the fact that they had time to complain about it. Yet another group turned out to be run by a 19 year old kid who said he’d taken a course on writing in college and really enjoyed it – so now he wanted to teach others. Yikes! And at another a man asked me if people from Tanzania are black.

I kept looking for a group because I know you have to kiss a lot of toads to find the prince. After fooling around with a few toads I got lucky. In one of the groups I met someone whose five minutes of reading really delighted me and the two of us started meeting each week. We send each other several pages of our work a few days before the meeting and then we get together and discuss our thoughts on the writing. Neither of us is a professional editor, but we have lots of experience as readers and we like the same sort of books. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the few hours we spend together each week and she’s given me valuable suggestions.

I imagine different writers need different types of groups and some need no group at all. It was worth it for me to keep looking.

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