Before I became a mother, I vowed I would never join a mother and baby group. Before I had twins, I vowed I would never join a twins and multiple births group. Before I set out to become a published writer, I vowed I would never join a writers’ group.
Guess what? I joined all three.
It’s not that I couldn’t manage on my own. I consider myself to be self-sufficient, self-disciplined and rigorously independent. Yet, there have been undeniable benefits to joining all these groups. Here are some.
Only mothers of twins know how annoying it is when, oblivious to your bedraggled appearance and bloodshot eyes, someone says, ‘Oooh, I always wanted twins.’ Only writers know how annoying it is when, oblivious to your bedraggled appearance and bloodshot eyes, someone says, ‘Oooh I always wanted to write a book.’ It’s good to meet up with people who truly understand your experiences, with whom you can enjoy a good moan and who will tell you it’s okay to feel the way you feel.
Other writers know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of rejection. They know what it is to have to justify an unprofitable activity to family members, or to carve out enough time for it in an impossibly busy schedule. When you’re feeling downhearted, these are the people who can build you up. These are the ones who won’t advise you to, who won’t let you, call it a day.
Just as mums can offer a wealth of information and advice on rearing children, writers can offer help on a wide range of topics. There’s always something new to hear about, from submission opportunities to literary talks, software programs to funding resources. I have found writers to be extremely generous with their knowledge and experience.
It’s probably fair to say that this benefit is exclusive to writers’ groups. I would not recommend going to a mother and baby group and telling someone they’re not doing such a good job. Serious writers, however, seek constructive criticism. It’s so very hard to judge how we’re doing in isolation. It’s so hard to get an objective view on our work. There is no purely objective view. But other writers will at least be able to give feedback on technical issues, as well as their own subjective responses.
This is where the choice of group is critical. It’s not so important to find people writing in the same genre, or at the same stage, as to find people with a good eye who can give astute and helpful feedback. The only way to find these people, if you don’t know them already, is by trial and error.
There are legions of writers’ groups to choose from. They often advertise in writers’ magazines, the local library, college or online. Apart from critical acumen, there are other things to consider when deciding which group is the right one for you. At one end of the spectrum, there are informal groups with irregular get togethers and more emphasis on general chat than sharing work. At the other extreme, there are groups which meet like clockwork, with elected committees and constitutions and critique slots that have to be booked in advance and some may have criteria for acceptance into the group that require submission of work. If you can’t find a group that meets your needs, you could always set one up yourself. This is all the more feasible nowadays with the advent of applications like Meet Up.
Beware, however, of becoming too involved. It’s easy to get side-tracked into meeting and talking about writing rather than actually doing it. Writing groups can become just another displacement activity. You may find yourself spending too much time critiquing other people’s work, or sitting on a committee, or editing a newsletter, or judging competitions, or even running a literary festival. This is all well and good if that’s what you want to do, but for me the reason for joining in the first place was because I wanted to write.
Last but not least. Writing is a solitary pursuit. Whilst solitude suits me fine most of the time, I’m not a complete misanthrope and I recognise that social outlets are important too. When you join a writing group, you start off with a common interest. It’s not a pre-requisite for a close friendship, nor a guarantee, but it helps. You may even find you share more than one interest in common. Some of my mother and baby friends are also interested in writing. Some of my writer friends actually have children. As the Americans say, go figure.
Claudia Cruttwell is currently seeking representation for her psychological suspense novel entitled, ‘A Piece of Broken Sky.’ She has an MA in Creative Writing from Brunel University and writes short stories on a variety of themes. She blogs about her journey to publication on her website and can also be found on Twitter @cscruttwell.