Monday, October 28, 2013

Guest Post: Laura Stephenson on Writing Groups

I've participated in five different writing groups in five different states, so I feel I have a wide range of experience on this subject. Even though each group yielded similar results, they were each run in a different manner. In one you brought in two pages of your writing (one copy for everyone coming), and read it aloud during the meeting. In another one person submitted ten pages each week, sending it by email a week in advance, everyone on a rotation. Etc.

How were they useful? With so many eyes dedicated to the page, they were catching things my beta readers weren't. All of the groups were made up of a pretty good cross-section of humanity, so they showed me how people outside my main audience might view my writing. They were usually pretty supportive, all with at least one common interest to me, so going to the meetings felt like time out and about with friends (of which I had desperate need, being the nerdy, homebody, stay-at-home mom I was).

Yet I kept finding myself frustrated. I would do my best to discover all the faults I could find in the other members' pages, leaving bloody trails of red pen, exhausting myself. But when I got my pages back, they were barely touched, with a few minor things here and there. I felt like no one else was working as hard as I.

How are writing groups not helpful? They aren't a group of critique partners. It wears on you too much to go in-depth on five to ten other writers' work. People either won't do it, or they will, get burnt out, and quit the group (as I did). If you want someone combing through, finding everything they can, they can be great for finding one or two other people to work more closely with.

Then again, most of the people in the group probably won't write the same genre as you do, so they can't give you the specific advice you really need. Their advice won't always work. I had a romance writer telling me to put paragraph breaks between a character's dialogue and their actions. In fantasy I've found it pretty standard to cut the paragraphs when switching which character is acting/speaking, but not between a single character's speech and actions. Every time she made the note, I disregarded it. It was a waste on both of our time.

Whether you personally go with the group or not should depend on where you are as a writer, and what you're looking for in the process. If you're green and looking for some encouragement and guidance, go for it. Perhaps you're more advanced, but you'd love to help out some local fellows while getting some socializing in. Great!

As you can probably tell by now, I've given up on writing groups. I'll use my close friends as beta readers, helping me develop the story, then a professional editor to tidy up. And that's a valid option, too. I guess my biggest piece of advice would be to try it out, and if the glove doesn't fit, don't feel pressured to keep it on.


Mrs. Laura Stephenson
Author of The Complete Guide to Being Evil

Laura is a new author in the field of fantasy. Her first book, The Complete Guide to Being Evil, is a quirky urban fantasy. She lives in Washington State with her husband and two kids, and enjoys outdoor activities and evenings in playing board games.

Laura's debut novel, The Complete Guide to Being Evil, is on Kickstarter! So far it's ~71% funded. Check it out, and she'd like you to consider making a small pledge.


Here's a short blurb about Laura's book (shamelessly borrowed from her Smashwords page): " What can evil do for you today? A young, impetuous mage named Kalara angers a local necromancer. Instead of leaving town, laying low for a while, or trying to appease him, she makes a deal with a devil to gain more power and win her little magi war."

Sounds like a fun book.  Anyone have any questions or comments about writing groups for Laura?  

:Disclaimer:  The Unpublished Writers' Guide to Survival and its owner have no affiliation with Laura and I am not personally asking any of you to fund her Kickstarter campaign.  If you decide to do so, that is your choice. =o) - B.E. Sanderson


  1. I've found with writers groups, as with critique partners, you take what works for you and discard the rest. I belong to a local writer group where we are allowed to bring in a piece no longer than 1000 words. It's fine for short stories, but I write novels. So why do I stay? They help me with my beginnings, but mostly I'm there learning by seeing how other people write. I find my mistakes best by finding it in others. Also, it forces me to interract with other people - something I truly need more experience with!

    Have you ever used any of your writers groups for brainstorming? I did that in my last meeting and discovered how great that was. It was my piece and my time. I asked for ideas instead of critiques, and it worked wonderfully. I think a lot of people had fun that way, too.

    1. That would be interesting! I'll have to try that next time, if I end up trying out a group again.

  2. Stacy, I've found groups to be more beneficial for brainstorming than for "critiquing."

    I'm lucky, Laura. I have an excellent critique partner. I want my pages to bleed so I get the story, language, plot, structure, etc. right. I'm just as hard on her work but we had to set down expectations before we started. In a group critiquing settings, I was told I was too tough on the beginning writers. Yeah. Didn't stay long. I wasn't mean, and I always pointed out the good stuff but beginners have to start learning somehow and if they can't stand the heat in a critique/writing group, how are they going to handle rejections from agents and editors?

    Great thoughts on the process, Laura. Your book sounds intriguing. :)

    1. That's an issue I had, too. People taking offense to my (always constructive) criticism. Thanks! I try.

  3. Interesting! I've belonged to two writer groups - the first was a sharing what we're working on and brainstorming sessions as needed, I miss that group! At this time, I don't belong to any writing groups...oh, yeah, you'd have to be writing to belong LOL Going forward, I'll probably stick with my online beta readers.

    Great post - good luck with your book, Laura :)

    1. Online beta readers are a great, low-pressure way to get feedback. Thanks!

  4. I think it depends on the group. I belong to a writing group but it is currently going through some major changes. At the moment it's very unstructured and casual and that's the way we like it. We meet once a month and talk about anything we want. If someone asks for a critique we do it privately. It's more of a social thing than a writing thing. LOL But it works to inspire us and everyone agrees we're more productive after meetings. We also run writing challenges on our private Facebook page and that also really works for me. I do better in a flock then flying solo.

    1. I suppose an extrovert would look at it differently than I would. As an introvert, having a group of friends I see regularly plus socializing at work is plenty "people" time for me. Back when those things weren't true, belonging to a writing group helped get me out of the house. But now I need more "me" time.


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