If you go out there on the interweb (as a niece calls it), you can find dozens of articles on the pros and cons of joining a writers group. Some of them you can easily think up yourself. The biggest—especially to someone who’s a bit cynical as I am—is the simple fact that when any group of people gets together, there’s going to be frictions and factions. Some members will gravitate to one another, and personalities will clash, causing others to drift away from each other. We writers aren’t immune to that.
As much as I like the group I’m a member of, I can see some of this going on. It’s not real strong yet, but it’s there, and it could get worse. I won’t go into details about it because that’s not the point of this post, nor is it my business to air dirty laundry.
What I want to talk about is one of the benefits.
I call it community.
I’ve never been big on groups. Way back when I first learned of this one, I didn’t take much interest in it. I have to admit that a big part of that was that I wasn’t very serious about my writing—not as much as I should have been, anyway—and maybe I had a feeling my stuff just didn’t measure up. Of course, that’s the purpose of a group: to get your stuff to measure up. But I didn’t think of that then. All I knew was I didn’t want to participate. Just didn’t seem to be my scene.
A few years later, I heard about the group again. I’d forgotten about it by then, so didn’t realize it was the same group. And it was from a different person. I was still a bit reluctant, but was working on my huge space opera and decided to give it a try.
I didn’t take anything the first night. Just wanted to see what things were like. After all, I might not like what I saw. Why commit myself to it right off the bat?
But I liked the way that, even though they were critiquing one another, they did it with respect. What was happening didn’t resemble personal attacks at all. In fact, they laughed and had fun while they were doing it.
Long story short, I started going on a regular basis, and I credit them with improving my writing to a point where I could get published. And now I’m planning my release party.
There’s a lot of support in this group, and I’m finding even more with Oghma Creative Media, my promotional company. Casey and Greg have grouped several authors together, pooling our resources, and it helps. Gives a sense of community.
If you’re a writer you know that it often feels like a really lonely job. Especially when you’re just starting out, trying to get your bearings, learn your voice, maybe even find what genre you want to write in. It’s not always obvious, and not everybody sticks with a genre (I hope to stretch outside of crime fiction, though it doesn’t look like happening anytime soon).
But like Dusty Richards says, we’re all doing the same thing. Sure, our characters wear different costumes, but we’re still wordsmiths. Our basic craft still works the same. Yes, there are various conventions in the genres, and what works in one won’t necessarily work in another, but on the whole, there are some universal principles we all should follow. And if we break those rules, we should do it deliberately and with good reason.
But that sense of community, that mutual support, is important. At Oghma, we have a closed group of authors who read one another’s books and write reviews on them to help bolster our standings. We share one another’s promos on Facebook and other social media, pushing each other’s work, even if it’s in a genre we wouldn’t read.
So if you’re still on the fence about joining a group, take that sense of community and shared support into consideration. Not every group will do it, and of those who do, they won’t all do it well. And, people being people, some groups will break up. Members will drift in and out. Some will get offended by the way the group does things. That’s all right. That just means the group wasn’t for them.
But if you can find the right group, the feedback is invaluable, and the support is priceless. Best thing to do is just find one and give it a try for a while. And if it doesn’t work, maybe you can start one of your own that will.