The first, and until recently the only, time I joined a writing group was way back when during my college years.
I had written several short stories, one of which won an annual fiction award sponsored by an alumnus, and had been told writing groups were the thing to do if I intended to be a serious writer. A writing group would offer constructive criticism, support, and a chance to test out on others bits of what I had recently written. So, I joined. After attending only three times, I realized it wasn't for me.
I had absolutely no problem with the constructive criticism I received, because I never received any. Nor did I have an opportunity to sample the support a group of fellow writers might have given me. Nor, again, did I have the chance to receive feedback on my writing from the group.
You see, the problem with the college writing group in question was that it was not so much a collective of writers banded together to support each other as it was a small gathering of bootlickers huddled together to feed the egos of two group members whose poetry had been published by small local presses. These two poets, who cumulatively had not netted enough advance to pay for a pitcher of beer, were the unofficial leaders of the group because they were published. They lorded over the meetings, reading aloud their latest poetic offerings, monopolizing the conversation, and spiking my blood pressure with their dismissal of others in the group. Little wonder I don't care for poetry...
Fast forward twenty-some years, and there I was considering the possibility of joining another writing group, as if I hadn't got my fill of bloated windbags the first time around.
Two ladies from my church, it turns out, had been meeting monthly to discuss the children's books they were writing. My wife, who regularly encourages me to attend author presentations and events at our local independent bookstore, suggested I contact them to ask if I could join their meetings. Reluctantly, I agreed it couldn't hurt to try again. As a result, I've come to realize through recent months that all writing groups are not created equal.
The three of us meet for two hours once a month. We start off talking about recent developments with our existing projects and how we've applied, or disregarded, each other's comments and suggestions from previous meetings. Then, we take turns sharing new writings and inviting criticism. No egos, just simple and honest give and take of ideas, which is exactly what a writing group should be. Best of all, my confidence and productivity have both improved.
2013 Mark Feggeler