Every author I know belongs to some kind of writer’s group. I love mine.
It took me three tries to find the group that was right for me. The first group I joined was mixed – some people writing for adults and a few writing for kids. That didn’t work for me. The second group was all people writing for kids, but there was some personality conflicts so I quit that one, too. The third time was the charm.
The group I joined had been in existence for a few years before I came along. We all write for kids and teenagers. Over the years some members have moved away and new members have been invited to join. The current size – 10 members – seems to be perfect.
Here are some of us. Here is the link to their websites.
We meet once a month at the public library. Because life sometimes gets in the way, we usually have 8 or so present. Our meetings run from 9:30-12:30, usually. Then those of us who can hang around go out to lunch together. We rotate the position of “group leader”. (Nobody like doing it much.) The group leader checks in with the others ahead of time to get a head count, and arrives at the library first. She passes an agenda sheet. On the sheet we each write down if we’ve brought something to read, and/or if we’d like to talk to the group about a writing or publishing issue.
We do not pass out manuscripts ahead of time. You bring enough copies of whatever you want to share so that each person gets a copy to mark up. (The page limit is 10 pages. Picture book writers bring an entire manuscript, poets bring a handful of poems, novelists will bring a chapter.) Once the copies have been distributed, the author reads her work out loud. If there is a specific type of commentary she’s looking for, she’ll mention that. (For example, the author might just be testing a new voice, or she’s struggling with some dialog, or she’s ready to submit the mss. and wants us to go over it with a fine tooth comb.) When she’s done reading, we take a few quiet minutes to write notes, then we go around the table and say what we think.
Our comments tend to fall in one of two categories: positive feedback, and places in the manuscript where we were confused, or where the quality of the writing doesn’t seem as high. Sometimes we can get lively debates going, when two readers have vastly different opinions of something. The author might ask questions of the critiquers, but we try not to “defend” our work. If you are busy defending what you’ve written, you can’t hear what people are saying. The group leader keeps an eye on the clock so everyone’s manuscript gets the same amount of time and attention.
I’ve been attending this group for almost ten years. I’ve never heard any unkind or unprofessional comments. We have an incredible atmosphere of trust and respect. If you don’t have that in your writer’s group, I can’t imagine why you’d bother attending. In addition to critiquing manuscripts, we’ve attended conferences together, sometimes spoken on panels together, and we often share books. Sometimes two or three of us will get together outside of group to catch up or read a longer piece. Those of us who write novels never bring the whole thing to group, but usually one or two people will volunteer to read it before it is submitted.
Equally important, or perhaps more important, are the friendships that our group has formed. We’ve been through marriages, divorces, moves, births of children, graduations, deaths, good reviews, bad reviews, no reviews, medical problems, medical triumphs, and yes, the publication of quite a few books. We celebrate together and we cry together. These women are my friends and I’m not sure how I would have gotten through the last decade without them.
One more note. Many members of our group belong to other writer’s groups. Some belong to a total of three, and attend three meetings a month. I don’t do that, but I know it works well for the women who do.
I think that about covers it. Any questions?