Writing Through Brambles started as six young moms who wanted to dedicate more time to writing. Over the years we have grown, broken up, and reunited only to explode in our productivity and vision. Now we have a blog where we get to talk to you wonderful writers weekly and we are growing a collection of our own published works! Is it any wonder, then, that writing groups hold such a special place in our hearts? We firmly believe that to be a successful writer you will need a group of people who you can join forces and talents with. Yet we hear all the time that people don’t know where to find a group, or that their group wasn’t helpful or didn’t last long. Sharing our experience, we hope to clear up some of these questions and help lead you to a functioning, uplifting group where you and your writing can be nurtured and strengthened. If you like this article, you can sign up for our newsletter and we will send you a free PDF of writing group resources that we recommend for your own writing group!
Why should I have a writing group?
Groups provide you with a safe place to receive critiques on your work in progress. Surrounding yourself with like minded individuals will sharpen your skills and teach you a multitude of tools you might not have found otherwise. Having supportive first eyes on your manuscript can help you keep going even when you feel like you’ve lost your spark. The friends you make will often fall in love with your story as much as you and they’ll help you get back to it if you ever fall off the bandwagon.
As members traverse through publishing they can be a vital means of forming contacts and getting to know people in the industry who you wouldn’t have otherwise. They’ll promote your work on social media, they’ll be the first person to read and love your stories, your biggest cheerleaders and most tender supports.
Just the structure of a writing group alone, as well as the expectations, hold you accountable when it might otherwise be easy to put writing on the back burner.
But being a part of a writing group will help you in your professional pursuits as well. As any member in your group pursues the professional side of writing, you have the potential of benefiting. There have been so many stories of authors getting their first published work under their belt because their friend- often someone in their writing group- introduced them to the right people. Some of your first jobs could come from members in your group; they will be the first ones you hear about writing contests and calls for submissions.
What is a Writing Group?
That’s why you’re here isn’t it- to find a group for yourself. So let’s discuss what exactly it is you should be looking for. A good writing group is a collection of people who are focused on improving their craft, committed to helping their fellow writers, and working towards a common goal.
What isn't a Writing Group?
A writing group is not a hang out session. While you should and will make deep and lasting friendships in your writing group, it should not be the place where you chat about that week’s gossip.
It is not a bashing session. A good writing group should not be something you walk away from feeling demeaned, or belittled. You should not feel less than, even if you are in the beginning stages of writing.
"A writing group isn't just for you, it is for everyone collectively." -Rachel White
How in the world do I even find a writing group?
Writing Through Brambles Founder, Bree Moore, started our writing group by posting a want add of sorts on Facebook. This remains the easiest and most productive solution. Try posting on your social media of choice that you are looking for writing friends who might also want to meet up. Talk to them about what they hope to get out of the group and if you share expectations, start meeting!
Local Libraries are also a good place to find fellow writers. Ask one of the librarians if you can leave a flyer at the front desk or on a bulletin board and be sure to leave a way for writers who will see that flier to contact you.
Writing Forums on Facebook such as Storymakers Tribe and LDS BETA Readers will feature posts from writers looking for writing groups specific to genre, or location regularly. Get engaged on those forums and respond when the requests are posted, or post one yourself.
When starting a writing group of your own it is important to search for people in the same stage of life. These people will most likely have similar availability and needs as you. Some people will want to look for writers of the same genre or writing styles. Surrounding yourself with these people will ensure that they have practiced knowledge on writing the genre you do. They’ll be well read and can flag tropes and cliches your audience will also pick up on. However! It is not necessary to making a writing group work! Sometimes surrounding yourself with people with different writing styles or genres opens you up to new tools to put in your toolbox
What if the group you find doesn’t feel right?
If you jump into a group, or start one of your own and after a while you realize that it doesn’t feel right, then you have two options. Tell the group what isn’t working for you, and talk about how you could change things up to make it feel better- others might be feeling the same way and will appreciate the initiative.
If you try this and still feel uncomfortable, it’s okay to leave and find a new group! You will find one that mixes well with your personality type, and you should never feel guilty for looking until you find that.
How To Start A Group
When you start looking, decide what your needs are as a writer. After years of working together we found that these things were important to our success:
If you are joining a group that’s already established, ask them what their expectations are. If they don’t have any, RUNAWAY!
Keeping these rules clear, understood, and applicable will keep writing group time from becoming a chatfest. An established leader can help enforce these rules and nudge writers back on track if they start to slip away from the expectations the group has set.
How often should we meet?
What are your writing goals? If you want to publish a book in a year, you’ll probably want to meet every week, and submit larger chunks of words. If you are just hoping for 5,000 words at the end of the month, maybe every other week, or once a month. No matter how often you choose to meet and submit, consistency is key to making sure the group doesn’t fall apart.
Where should we meet?
Distance is not an obstacle- you can meet up online, so when looking for a writing group do not fret about distance. Online meetings are effective and convenient. You can use sights like Discord, and Skype. In our experience Discord has been the smoothest platform as far as dropping calls, being able to connect in the first place, hearing everybody…
The downside is that sometimes internet connections do go out. Sometimes cameras fail. And sometimes, for no reason at all, the sound turns robotic and someone can’t hear what’s being said. We’ve found that muting yourself when it’s not your turn to talk helps increase clarity by cutting back on background noises, and helps with making it very clear whose turn it is.
Meeting in person is fun, it feels like a getaway, and you get the nuances of talking to people in person. Some libraries have reservable quiet rooms, especially at newer city libraries or college libraries. This will give you a place that is private, but personal and could be a nice way to get out of your typical writing space.
Cafes will always be some writer’s favorite spaces to write. If you don’t mind background noises, it could be a fun place to meet and grab a snack.
A Group Member’s house is a convenient place to meet that doesn’t require a reservation, and can still give you a private feel. Try to find a time when their house won’t be busy. Also, consider rotating houses with other members of the groups so that the responsibility doesn’t fall just on one person’s shoulders.
How should I structure my writing group?
Here are a couple ways we’ve structured our writing groups in the past:
Other ways people have structured Writing Group
Do’s and Don’ts for Writing Groups
Do submit and critique- your group will function best if everyone is regularly submitting and actively critiquing. It might seem harmless not to submit one week, but it makes it harder for your group to give you meaningful critiques. The more time between the submissions they read, the more likely they will forget where your characters were and what they were going through. You want the clearest, best critiques so be sure to help them do their part by submitting as consistently as you can, every chance you can. On the flip side, not being fully engaged in the critiquing process, or not reading one of the submissions tells your group- I’m only in it for myself. It doesn’t harbor trust and respect. If you miss one submission, then the next time you have a lot to catch up on. If you chose to try and pick up on the next week without catching up, you could be missing plot and character developments that make the critiques you do give less helpful.
Don’t stop from submitting because you’re worried your draft isn’t polished enough. That’s what your group is for! They can ignore the messy stuff and see the root of the story.
When critiquing do not comment on grammar and spelling unless specifically asked. The vast majority of the time your comments will be most useful if you focus on big picture edits such as plot, character structure, continuity, pacing, and conflict.
Do keep it kind- critique the manuscript, not the person by saying things like “this character feels…” or “This plot lacks…” instead of, “You wrote this character too…” or “Your plot lacks…”
Also, remember that pointing out the strengths in a manuscript is just as important to the writer and the story as pointing out the negatives. When giving critiques keep what you would do out of the equation. It’s their story and they have a style and a vision all their own. To the best of your abilities take their style and vision seriously and give them critiques that help match that.
Do maintain the cone of silence during your turn: It is tempting to defend your work when you receive critiques. Resist that urge! While it’s your turn to receive critiques remind yourself that your group is not privy to your working thoughts on the manuscript. They don’t know your research, or what comes next, or the inner motivation of the characters. This means that they’re coming from a blank canvas, and absorbing only what you’re putting on the page. Their view of the story would help you see where your vision got muddled on the way from your head to the page. Their responses, unaffected by your input, are more valuable to you than their responses after you have explained. With that being said, at the end of the critiques feel free to ask clarifying questions so that you can better understand when your readers felt confused, or what might help them feel differently.
Do see any critique you are given as an option for you to consider. If one person is confused over a point, it might just have been them. But if multiple people in your group express confusion over the same spot, chances are it was actually a confusing spot. You have the freedom and the ability to take their critiques and do with them what you see fit for your story. Trust your instincts.
Do Adapt! And be flexible. If something stops working, don’t let it tear down your group. Be flexible and be okay with changing things up and trying new things. We are human beings. Sickness, mental health, work, families, and travel can and will get in the way of writing. Don’t be so strict that one of these things is the reason why a member feels ostracized from group. If at any time one of these things seems to be taking over group, discuss it with the members. Ask them how you can help meet their needs, and what they need to start making group a priority again.
What to do when a group falls apart?
“A writing group is like a shark- you know a shark will die if it doesn’t keep moving… it can get really stagnant if you’re doing the same thing day in and day out so we had to adapt or die.” -Bree Moore
Life happens. Maybe some drama made you fall apart, or maybe people just got busy, as people are want to do. But you want to fix it, to get the group back together.
First, choose a mediator, someone who can be impartial and kind. Then, be honest about what the problem was. Do not avoid or ignore conflict. A chance to talk through conflict is a chance to remind each member of your group that they and their concerns are important and that any issue is worth working through together. If possible discuss it with the group and brainstorm solutions to that problem. If there is burn out try restructuring groups to better suit the preferred writing speed. Is there a rule that is causing friction? Revamp it. Conflict can get messy, but try to keep an open mind, and don’t take things personally. When it’s all worked out the group will be stronger for it, and you’ll have forged lasting deep meaningful relationships.
If there is a specific member who has fallen off a bandwagon, consider reaching out to them in love before you write them off. Ask them what needs are not being met, and listen intently and unbiased.
Addressing the groups needs and building the structure accordingly will help all members feel like they have the support and structure they need to work past any insecurities and fears they might have, and as writers we all know what an impact that can have on our work.
Writing groups are invaluable tools in a writer's tool box. I am so grateful that I have the girls at Writing Through Brambles in my corner. They have made me a better writer and a more responsible and kinder person. We hope that these tips will help you find and create a group of your own that will support you through all your writing goals.
If you are interested in receiving our free Writing Group Resources PDF consider signing up for our newsletter. We will provide the things we use to make our group work smoothly.
What do you look for in a writing group? What is something you appreciate about the group you’re in? We’d love to hear from you in the comments down below.
We're all writers, we're all moms, writing our way through the "brambles" of life and our stories.