Writing Groups: Yes or No?

Thursday Postcard

I’m in a new writing group. Well, new to me.

I was in my previous group for 14 or so years, up until 2019, and it was fantastic. We met in person–at first weekly, then biweekly–and became excellent writing friends to each other.

Nothing beats access to writers who want to read your stuff and give you feedback. Writers who are rooting for you to become a better writer, and helping you get yourself there. Plus, we had cheese at every meeting!

This new group is a different arrangement. We meet by Zoom, it is run by the amazing Pam Bustin, and I really like it.

We’re all working on novels. We all have different lives and stressors and things that are hanging us up, but nothing unusual for writers. We are all at different stages on our projects, from first draft (me) to querying agents (Pam), and every stage in between.

The company is excellent. We do silent writing Monday mornings for an hour, and every second Thursday we have a craft talk or report in on our situations around writing.

We do not critique each other’s work (except through side arrangements).

What?! No Critiquing?

I guess it’s not that shocking! But my first writing group critiqued each other’s work. This is what I needed and wanted all those years. This is what writing groups did, and what many still do.

If you’d told me that one day I’d sit silently with other people (over Zoom) and write, I’d have expressed shock and disbelief.

I’m not sure what changed for me–I think it’s that working with writers over the last several years, I have become more and more aware that getting critiques on an early draft can send a writer down the wrong path without knowing it.

It didn’t happen to me PERSONALLY…although one professional critique did lead me to stop writing for a while, and some workshop critiques (not from my writing group!) made me suspect I was a no-talent bum. But it definitely happens.

Some critiques ring in our heads. They make so much sense and are so convincing that we can easily start taking them as the truth. That can lead to us rewriting what we’ve done into a book we’re not that interested in, or one that plain doesn’t work. We can get stuck on that path for a year or two…or five.

It’s not rare at all. Just this morning, author Mary Adkins told a story on Facebook about that happening with her first book. For a good two years. It wasn’t until she took the novel back into her own hands and made it what she personally wanted to read that it became publishable. AND went to auction, which is naturally a dream come true for writers.

There’s a time and a place for feedback on your writing.

There is a time and a place for feedback on your work. Sometimes even on your first draft, especially if you’re in it for the learning experience.

The writers in my first group taught me how to write fiction, no exaggeration. 

But the more I learn about writers and writing, the more I believe that workshopping or even getting beta reads on a first draft can skew your vision for the book and send you down a false trail.

So if you’ve gotten feedback and tried to make it work but there’s a voice saying, “meh, I don’t know about this,” listen to it.

Go back to writing what you want to write.

You can always get feedback on a later draft to help you make it the best it can be, or you can start pitching it and see what happens.

Then set out to write the next book. 😉