Writing Group Lessons-Learned

Although there are many wonderful online communities available, I chose to look for a writing group that I could attend in person.

Joining a Writer’s Group is an exceptional avenue for meeting other writers who support one another on the road to improving their craft and provide excellent insight, feedback, and unbiased opinions on each other’s works in progress.  Guest speakers are often invited to discuss various author/publishing topics and events.  Sometimes members will attend book signings and festivals to support colleagues with published work or who might be on the speaker’s panel.

I lucked out, because right out of the gate, I discovered a writing group that was a perfect fit and joyfully became an active member.

Unfortunately, circumstances rendered our meeting location to be moved even further from my home – which is generally no problem as we meet only once a month and I’ll gladly make the drive – but I thought it might be nice to join another group from my own local area.  I reasoned that I’m perfectly capable of participating in two groups and it would be nice to support writer events a little closer to home.

Via an online search, I was very excited to discover a group only four miles from my home.  I immediately contacted the group leader (GL hereafter for expediency) – stated my objective and style of writing – and I was invited to attend their next meeting, even submit a story for group review if I so desired.

Thinking this would be a nice introduction to the group, I submitted a short story and GL sent it out to the rest of the group with the notice that I would be attending.

It was a disaster.

The meeting started with GL asking me to introduce myself.  I happily complied and then paused expectantly for the others to do the same.  No one did.  Not even GL.  Instead, GL launched into a critique for one of the submitted stories.

At first, I tried to participate and show support for the work in discussion, but I quickly picked up on the fact that at least one of the other members resented any comment that I had – and by the end of the meeting, I fell quiet since I did not feel welcome at all.

After the hour had passed, a few folks took out my story for review but GL said we were out of time and would get to it next meeting.  GL started to leave without so much as a goodbye, nice to meet you, thanks for coming – shoot pick any social nicety – so I spoke up and asked if this was the extent of their monthly meetings.

GL became very defensive.  I held up both my hands and reiterated that I received no information about the group or its members besides the fact that they meet monthly for an hour.  Since the previous hour was spent critiquing each other’s work, I was wondering if they engaged in any other activities as I was looking for a writers group vs. a critique group.

Things continued to go downhill from there.  To the point that one of the other members approached me afterwards and spilled the beans on how dysfunctional the group was and did I want to branch off and start our own group!  Believe it or not, I actually attended two more meetings with the hope that I could make it work.

Instead, I discovered that GL has a poor memory, does not follow through, and possesses no group management skills – which means that the participants have no critique guidelines, and one of its members in particular would become very combative and defensive during story critiques (even if it wasn’t hers).

Needless to say, I sent a nice, professional email to GL stating my decision to not join the group, thanking him for the opportunity, blah-blah-blah.  GL never replied.  Surprised?  I wasn’t.

So my takeaway from this experience is learning that a successful writers’ group should have two things above all else:

  • guidelines, and
  • leadership

I’m so thankful that I was able to draw upon the good experiences I’ve had and continue to have with my other writers group, or I still might be trying to make a “silk purse from a sow’s ear”.


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