Today, we’re talking about writing groups and conferences. I haven’t been to any writing conferences personally, but I have participated in a couple online ones. They were okay. I definitely would love to go to one that I can attend in person. Writing groups, on the other hand, I have a lot more experience with.
First we’re going to talk about writing groups and then we’ll go onto writing conferences. If you want to read about one and not the other then look for the appropriate heading.
Writing groups are amazing. Almost any book I’ve ever read has some sort of shout out to a group of people who help support the author and understands their pain (the pain being the writing and publishing processes.) Those authors are usually part of some sort of writing group.
Writing groups are great for getting the feedback that we need on our manuscripts as we go through the writing process. They’re there to find the mistakes and awkwardness in your writing, to support you through your writer’s block, to help you through the publishing process and they’re great for a good laugh when you need one – generally speaking.
Now, like everything, there are some pros and cons for writing groups. When you have the right writing group, there is usually nothing but pros to it. If you find a bad one then things aren’t going to go well.
So here are a few things to watch out for when looking for a group (these are considered must have’s and I agree):
- A commitment to telling the truth. Writing groups are supposed to help you improve your writing and your not going to get that if all you hear is how wonderful your work is. I know that’s awesome and amazing to hear, but it isn’t going to help you. My group in university had a “you can’t say like/dislike or love/hate” rule. Why? Because it forced us to actually look, really look, for the flaws in the manuscript we were given. We got a lot of really good feedback from this one little rule. We even had a “swear jar” for the times when we used those taboo words in our critique. Also. be as specific as you can in your critique of what is wrong. If you don’t then the person you’re critiquing what’s wrong with their work, then they will continuing making the same mistake over and over and over again. Which they don’t want to do.
- On the flip side of above, you have to be open to receiving criticism. Deep down inside, you know there is something wrong with your writing and that’s okay! No one is going to get it perfect on the first go! Keep that in mind as you sit in the hot seat for your critique time. Remember that you personally are not being critiqued, but your story and ideas are. It’s not about you personally. Another little trick my writing groups has is a “author can speak to their piece before critique or after, but never during unless asked a direct question” rule. On my first critique, I found this really hard because I wanted to defend my writing against “the bad” things they were saying about my lovely piece of writing. In hindsight, it was a bit of a training tool in disengaging from the work and focusing the criticism onto the work itself.
- Talk about failure. You know when I said that you don’t get things right on the first try? Well share this with your writing groups. Tell them about your rejections and the problems you’re having fleshing out a character. They are a network you can lean on in the good times and the bad. This is a genuine connection not a surface connection. I know for me I can reach out to any one of the wonderful people in that group and ask for help and they would give it to me. That’s what you’re going to want in yours.
- Give – and ask – for good notes. When we let out hot seat author talk we always asked if they wanted us to focus on anything in particular or a lot of the time they would send out their manuscript in an email and ask for us to look for different things. Then we would focus on those things first and foremost before diving into other problems we see. Good notes are going to help the author improve and ultimately that’s what you want in a writing group.
- Have a mix of writing levels in the group. Why is this important? Well, if you’re all struggling writers who don’t know what you’re doing, then you’re not going to be helpful to anyone. If you have a couple newbies, a few seasoned authors who have published a few things here and there and a full fledged published novelist then you have people who know what they’re doing and some that don’t and a good mix of feedback. My group had, a couple business professionals, a university professor with a published book – both academic and he’s a poet, a couple published short story authors, and a couple people working on polishing their manuscript so they can get it published. We had a lot of different opinions and levels in the group and they had some phenomenal advice on what worked and didn’t work. Plus some had industry knowledge to pass along as well.
Those are some of the things to look for when looking for a writing group to call your own. The list of things to look for above are something you should really pay attention to if you’r seriously looking for some good feedback. If not, then just find a group you like and jibe with.
Now, the above is all well and good, but how do you go about finding a writing group? Here’s a list of places where you can find a writing group:
- Local Writing Centers and Communities. Just google it and something will probably pop up. I know in Calgary there is one local writing center (Alexandra’s Writing Centre Society) and that the Alberta’s Writer’s Guild has a headquarters in Calgary and Edmonton.
- Conferences. When you attend these types of events it’s always good to keep in touch with any of the wonderful people you make there. You can start a writing group that way or at the very least have one or two other people to share your work with.
- Bulletin Boards. This still is a method of finding groups and interesting people. Just make sure you have a bit of a vetting process for people and/or groups that approach you. Remember you want a group that works with and for you.
- Writing Associations. Professional associations such as Romance Writers of America and Mystery Writers of America have chapters throughout the country, if you live in the USA. Check their sites for a list of where they are or are not.
- People You Already Know. If you have friends or family members that write, then hit them up for some help and/or feedback. Even think of asking coworkers, neighbors or acquaintances. You just want to have someone you can regularly check in with.
- Meetup.com. This site has boards and groups for a whole range of topics, so you can find an already established group or start one of your own!
- Online Critique Groups. There are online services out there. Most are free, but you may have to pay to gain all of the features of that website. Most of them do work as a critique and be critiqued in order to retain that free membership. Some groups to check out: Critique Circle, Review Fuse, Scribophile and Ladies Who Critique.
- Social Media Groups. Social media is a great way to connect with like-minded individuals and find potential writing group members. Try these: LinkedIn Groups for Writers, Facebook Groups for Writers, Goodreads Writing Groups and Twitter Lists for Writers. Or you can always put out a call of action on your own social media and see who wants to join you in a writing group.
That’s what you need to know about writing groups!
I have only had one experience with a writing conference/workshop and it was an online one. Hay House Publishing was doing a condensed free workshop for aspiring writers. What attracted me to this forum was the price and the fact that it was a information session for authors who wanted to publish. It was also open to any genre – it didn’t need to be a self-help book or anything like that. Reid Tracy, Hay House’s CEO, led the group and was very forthcoming about how to go about publishing your book. He went through steps to take and what to do or not to do. Of course it was a teaser for the full workshops they have been giving over the past two years – for a price and it’s a lot more comprehensive.
Writing conferences can be very beneficial, as long as you know what you’re going there for and what you hope to accomplish at one. However, a lot of people fall into the trap of just going again and again and again to conferences and never actually finishing off that manuscript or publishing it. SO make sure you’re not going to fall into that trap.
Here are the three things that most writers go to writing conferences for:
- To Learn.
- To Network.
- To Pitch Their Work to an Agent.
Now, it depends on who you ask and what that particular author’s goals are, but usually those three things get different emphases put on them. If you’re a new author who needs to figure out the industry and to hone your craft then you’re going to want to focus on the learning and networking aspects. If you have a book ready to go then the pitching to an agent is going to be more important.
Either way, make sure you know why you’re going and take the feedback given to you seriously. Out of the entire thing, you will be getting feedback – either from agents, panelists, other writers, etc. on your work. That;s one of the main functions of the conferences – it is to see what’s out there, what’s new in the industry, and to improve upon the craft as a whole.
With all of the above said, remember to have fun. Don’t just be stuck in work mode all of the time at these things. No one really wants to have someone’s book pitched to them every time they turn around. Most people are there to learn, network, if they snag an agent then great, but they’re there to have some fun and soak up some creative energy from those around them. Always being work or let’s get published mode is going to stress you and a bunch of other people out.
For a full list of do’s and don’t’s check out terriblemind’s blog for some of the etiquette rules. He did a great job going through things.
Well that’s what I have for you today! Check in Thursday, I will be talking/weighing in about writer’s block.