5 Benefits of Joining a Writers’ Group

Feedback written on Chalk Board
Category: Writing

I’ll never forget the first time I went to a writers’ group. My hands were shaking as I read out my story from a sheet of paper. When I finished I looked up and the other writers smiled politely and told me how good it was. Next, a small man called John read out an excerpt from the erotic fantasy novel he was working on. There was something about trolls having sex with statues. When he finished, we all smiled and told him how good it was.

I left my first ever writers’ group feeling elated. My ego had been well and truly stroked. At the time it was probably the confidence boost I needed. But did it improve my writing? Nope, not in the slightest.

Fast forward a few years, and I’ve come to appreciate the real value of a well-organised crit group. I’ve attended evening classes, studied creative writing at university and nowadays I meet with Writers’ Bloc once a month in the back room of a cosy pub to craft my writing into something it never could have been if I’d struggled on alone.

If you’ve been thinking of joining a critique group, let me convince you why it’s a truly excellent idea.

It gives you a fresh perspective

Compliments are nice but there’s only so much they can do for you

If you haven’t tried a crit group before, you may have only shared your writing with friends and family members. While that can be useful, their feedback should be taken with a sizable pinch of salt. Particularly when it’s your mum telling you you’re going to be the next J.K.Rowling.

Compliments are nice but there’s only so much they can do for you. A good writers’ group will offer you a fresh pair of eyes and give you honest, specific and helpful feedback on how you can make your stories better.

At Writers’ Bloc crit sessions we use the Milford Rules - which means we submit work ahead of the actual meet up to read and digest. Then at the session we sit in a circle and take it in turns to offer feedback to the writer. The writer in question is not allowed to speak whilst receiving feedback, which - although difficult - helps with the flow and prevents anyone jumping in to defend their writing. Ultimately, you’re not going to be there to defend your character motivation or plot choices every time someone reads your story in the big wide world. So it makes sense to see if your story works well on its own.

It toughens you up

If the idea of sharing your work with a room of complete strangers fills you with dread, how are you going to feel when it’s time to send it off to agents and publishers? There’s no getting around it, if you want to be published you need to put your fragile writing ego on the line.

On a side note – a decent writers’ group won’t tear your work to shreds and leave you weeping in the corner. I’ve heard horror stories of writers’ groups where a kind of hierarchy exists, where making someone else feel bad about their writing is intended to make them look good. If you get even a whiff of this, find the nearest exit. No one needs that kind of negativity.

Good crit is constructive, fair and specific. I didn’t like your story because I don’t like horror stories, is not useful. Your ending didn’t work for me because of X, Y and Z, is useful and actionable.

Some weeks your group will love your story, others they won’t. Nobody hits gold every time. You’ll learn to deal with it.

It helps you see the wider picture

Writing is a solitary pastime. However, it’s important to stay in the loop with what opportunities are out there, and what the wider trends in publishing are.

No writer exists within a vacuum, so mingling with other writers is a great way to stay informed. I usually trot home from my own crit group with a list of podcasts to listen to, books to read and journals or magazines to send stories to.

It encourages you to keep going

Everyone needs cheerleaders sometimes

I cannot stress enough the importance of having even a handful of people who believe in you. Life often gets in the way of writing. Your writers’ group will be there to remind you why you wanted to write so badly in the first place.

Whether you’re stuck halfway through writing a novel, or find yourself in the midst of an existential crisis, a writing group will help you bring back your focus. Everyone needs cheerleaders sometimes.

It makes you a better writer

Writing is a craft. Even the most naturally gifted writers can benefit from a deeper understanding of the elements of storytelling. By having your own work critiqued, and by critiquing others’ work, you’ll absorb more about the craft of writing than you could possibly imagine. It takes time to become a good writer - but it also takes feedback.

There are plenty of writers' groups to be found. So make a commitment today; your stories will thank you for it.

Louise Boyd

Louise Boyd is a writer, blogger and performer. She’s a member of Edinburgh writing collective Writers’ Bloc and she Tweets at @boydwrites