Monday, April 12, 2010

Writer's Groups: To Join or Not to Join? by Pamela Thorson

If you have done any writing on a serious level, you've surely at least heard of writer's groups. Many agents, seasoned authors, and writer's conferences routinely encourage writers - especially novices - to get involved in local groups. Soon after publishing my first book, I was invited by an acquaintance to join theirs. I jumped at the chance, eager to connect with other local writers. A year later, I was invited to join a local author's group. Since then, I've juggled my time between both groups and have discovered a few striking differences:

* One group is mostly a critique group. We meet often (every two or three weeks) in order to stay disciplined and writing. The group is informal but serious. We e-mail our submissions to each other before the meeting, so we can come prepared with our critiques. We set a certain amount of time to discuss each submission. The group strives to make the critiques positive and non-critical. The focus is on learning: learning how to write better and learning more about the writing profession in general. We attend writer's conferences together. We cheer each other's victories in getting published and encourage one another through the rough weather of life in general. In some ways, we're a support group, too.

* The other group is comprised mostly of self-published authors learning how to market their products in a tough economy. This group is varied and fiercely independent. The leader makes sure that any new writers understand that "This is not a critique group." Several of these authors are either active or retired professors from nearby colleges and universities. This group has organized such activities as an open house for local authors, open-mike nights for book readings, and presentations from the university book store and a local publisher. 

Which group would I recommend? It depends on what you're looking for. One woman in the second group said she had tried a critique group and hated it. Personally, I have learned a lot from the critique group. If a writer can't take the critical eyes of a small group, that big, brutal world out there is going to be a rude awakening. On the other hand, for those who already have a product and want to devote their time and energies solely to marketing, the second group is valuable.

I've found that I need both. I have a lot to learn. The critique group keeps me disciplined and writing; the marketing group forces me away from the computer and out there where the readers are. The interaction and wisdom of others is vital to growing as an author, whether novice or seasoned. Any writer who pretends to know it all is in danger of becoming proud, irrelevant, or just plain stale.

 As Christian authors, our words are living letters from God's heart to others. To be filled the breath of life and anointing that comes from the Spirit of God, they need the fresh air of new ideas, the nourishment of mentoring, and the revealing light of gentle correction.

It's always exciting when a group of Christian authors can be co-laborers instead of competitors. So if you're not in a writer's group yet, I encourage you to find one. Or start one today.

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