I can’t count the number of times someone told me to join a writer’s group. And every time, I’d think, “Yeah, that’s a good idea. I’m gonna go look for one.” And then every time without fail I’d stall somewhere between the idea and actually going. The closest groups are too far away, they’re too small, they’re too big, they’re not focused on my genre, this person organizing the whole thing looks mean. The justifications were endless, but ultimately they came down to one thing: fear. I was always afraid to be around other writers, afraid of critiques that picked apart my precious manuscripts. Afraid of finding out that I was not a real writer.
Fear is one of the big dividers between the dreamers and the people who actually make their dreams come true. We research, study, practice, agonize and plan, but until you take that final step and actually start down whatever road you’re staring down, you’re letting fear stop you. And on this one front, I had finally decided I’d had enough.
I joined a writer’s group a few weeks back, and honestly it was one of the most liberating things I’ve done in a long time.
There were a few things that made this time different. The first was the realization that I was going to go only when I was ready to. I’d spent some time beating myself up over my lack of a group (that’s what we writers do; we’re critical with ourselves over everything) but once I decided that that frustration wasn’t doing anything, I let it go. And that allowed me some recovery time from my own mental sabotage, which in turn led to (of all things) a sudden willingness to give a newly joined group a shot.
Going into the first meeting, I was pretty thorough in my preparation. I read everything available on the group’s page to make doubly sure I understood what the group was about and their rules. I read the pieces that had been shared for critique that week twice – once for myself and once for critique. I kept my comments light and mostly editing-focused because I wasn’t sure how intense the members were, and when it was my turn to talk about the first piece I told them this, and that I would adjust accordingly in the future. I followed the tried and true rule of thumb for critiques to be constrictive, and I was surprised to find that in terms of the depth of the critiques I wasn’t too far off the mark. I listened, watched, and participated lightly.
And the experience was so amazing that it’s now a regular part of my week. I’ve moved from being a closeted solo writer to being someone with a network, albeit small. And I’m not going back. I’m not going back to the extent that I’m looking for a second group to add to my lineup, and entertaining the notion of setting up one of my own.
Be honest with yourself. Be aware of what you want. Find a group and a setting that clicks for you, that puts you at ease and that you enjoy going to. If the first group you go to doesn’t work then look for another; writers are everywhere. And above all, remember that you as the writer and your writing are both stronger for the critiques and fellowship.