Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Question For Writers: I Really Want To Know

I am curious about some of the writers' groups some of you may be a member of. If you can give me some information I would be appreciative, whether or not you are still in the group, or if the group is a thing of the past.

Some of the questions I am interested in are:

1) Is your group focused on a particular type of writing. Are you all in the same genre, for instance. Are you all the same age range?

2) Where does your group meet? A book store? A library?

3) Can anyone join? Or does the person have to go through some kind of vetting process? Or is the group by invitation only.

4) What are the rules for the group? Do you read out loud? Do line crits passing out work ahead of time?

5) How long has the group been in existence, and how long have you been a member.

I really want to know.
If you're more comfortable making this a posting on your own blog, fine. But I really, really want to know. I currently belong to two groups.


jedimerc said...

I guess I need to find a local writer's group. I have mostly workshopped online myself... I guess the thought never occurred to me, not for lack of wanting to write or discussing writing. The internet has been useful for discussion and critiquing, but I suppose the immediacy of a local group would be useful.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I've had great group experiences and horrible group experiences. I think it is good for someone to try even once. And if the first group you join isn't of value, try a second group. Sometimes it comes down to personalities. Sometimes it comes down to how serious members are and what the group wants to accomplish.

The horror writers group I belonged to, and this has changed, initially didn't talk at all about writing. They weren't interested in doing in group critiques. However, several members have split and are now meeting informally for the purpose of working on their writing skills.
Speaking of which, any of you out there: When are we getting together next?

Bird on a Wire said...

I guess my writing classes at UNM could be considered writing groups, and a friend and I are kind of trying, in a half-assed way, to start a writing group. That hasn't materialized yet. This blogging thing, in my opinion, sort of counts too.

SQT said...

I've never belonged to a writers group. The closet I've come is doing the assignments you give us.

Holly Kennedy said...

I used to belong to a writers group, but most of the members were far too busy offering up negative critiques instead of supporting each other. I grew impatient because they were so busy 'discussing' instead of 'doing'. Also, most of them kept bouncing from one WIP to another, never finishing anything.

I decided it wasn't worth my time to continue attending. Instead, I found like-minded writers at conferences and retreats who I connected with and who were similarly ambitious and determined.

I hope this helps. I'm not knocking writers groups, but my experience wasn't beneficial.

P.S. Thanks for popping by my site Stewart. As a new author, I enjoy everyone's blog feedback.

Kate S said...

Well, I belong to what used to be local chapter of the national RWA (local when I was in AZ, that is) and they meet once a month at a restaurant with guest speakers, round table discussions, etc. Out of that group, I joined a smaller critique group. I still keep in touch with my CPs via email, and maintain contact with the main group via their yahoo group as well as private emails.

You do have to belong to the national RWA to join a local chapter (so yes, it is all the same genre in that they write romance [gasp! :)] but they support all sub-genres as well.) You also have to be a member to join a local chapter's web groups.

However, I think it was one of the best things I could have done--I've learned a lot from them, networked, and made great friends. The Phoenix group, in particular, has many multi-published authors in various genres, and they have all be very generous with their time and knowledge.

SourDad said...


I've hosted two writers critique groups. I started them because I couldn't make it to any of the established ones I could find. The groups were too small to focus on a single genera, and I have shared stories, essays, poems and drama in my groups.

One group was hosted by a local B&N. The marketing director at the store is just great! The other group met at in a cc campus coffee shop.

These groups were to young and small for them to be picky. We needed members. We took all comers. There were those that didn't want criticism, and after a time or two they didn't come back, but no one was rude, or asked to leave.

There are some guidelines out there for these types of groups that include suggestions like "Each critique must start with positive comments, and the writer must not address the comments until everyone has had a chance to comment". But I'm really not one for rules, most people knew when they were being helpful.

We read. It was great. People would bring copy for everyone, and we'd follow the author's reading. We'd mark up the copy and discuss afterwards. Sometimes we'd have to reign people in if the discussion went on too long. Mostly this was so that everyone could read, not because the criticism was out of line.

Sometimes people would take others work home with them for a closer critique, but reading out loud was critical. Often the writer would pick up on issues they had missed, just from reading to the group.

The campus group lasted almost 2 years, but it usually didn't have a critical mass. I think that's about 4 to 8 writers. The B&N group is about 3 years old and is still going with out me thanks to my teaching schedule.

I started both groups hoping to have at least one make it; careful what you wish for. I wanted to better learn self editing and to give myself deadlines so I'd finish some stories. I was also hoping to find a mentor (didn't happen, but friends are better than mentors anyday). Although unexpected the groups taught me to accept and develop my voice. Boy do I miss them.

Sphinx Ink said...

Sphinx Ink belongs to two writers' groups. The first is a local chapter of RWA (Romance Writers of America) that meets once a month, has a speaker at every monthly meeting, and sends out a newsletter. There are about 80 members, of which 30-50 attend the monthly meetings. About 25 of the members are published authors. The chapter welcomes not only romance writers, but other types of writers, so there are a number of members who write in other genres, such as mystery and SFF. The ages of the members range from 20s through 80s. Sphinx Ink has been a member since 1993 and, through both the chapter and the national RWA organization, has learned a great deal about both the craft and the business of writing.

Since 2001 Sphinx Ink has belonged to a second writers' group that meets weekly at a bookstore. This group currently has six members and membership is closed. All of the members are professional writers in one way or another; two are full-time novelists, published in hardcover; two others are college professors who are published in their professional fields as well as in fiction and nonfiction; two others are unpublished novelists who write professionally in their day jobs. The purpose of the group is not to critique each other's work, but rather to seek creative inspiration by sharing ideas. The group discusses a wide variety of topics, ranging from craft and technique, to business management and book promotion, to analysis of what makes a bestseller work and why good books tank in the market. The age range of the members is from 40s to 60s. Two members drive significant distances from out of town to attend, week after week, and all the members have become close and in tune with one another. All value the group highly. It is truly a meeting of minds alike enough for harmony and sharing, while different enough for stimulation and challenge.

Sphinx Ink said...

After entering the earlier comment, Sphinx Ink discovered that her blolleague and fellow group member C.S. Harris posted on her blog today about our writers' group, at greater length and expressiveness than Sphinx Ink. If interested, see http://csharris.blogspot.com/2007/01/writers-groups.html.

Danny Tagalog said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Danny Tagalog said...

I'd love to be part of a group in the future - but for someone who had ideas about writing but never got down to it, the blogging tool, as 'bird' says - counts too. I don't have the time to write and flesh out the short stories ideas which have been brewing in my head, but communities such as this are something I'd like to join when time permits. And just by writing about interests, some type of written fluency emerges and interests develop. It's also interesting how a community of bloggers can subtly influence each others content.

I'd prefer a local group myself, but seeing the thoughts of dedicated writers is most stimulating...

Stuart - yes, I was talking Patrick McGoohan - just re-discovered him - grew up seeing re-runs and was obsessed before I could really understand it.


Vwriter said...

I have recently joined a new writer's group just south of Detroit called "The Comfort Zone."
None of us has been published, and we are very concerned that being published will lesson our love for the craft.

We avoid those aspects of groups that we feel to be unproductive. We do not, for example, write. We do, however, discuss what it would be like to write. Our discussions on this topic are wide-ranging and unfettered. This weekend we will discussing what it would be like to write flash fiction. All comments are kept within the lower limits acceptable within that genre. Any member whose expressed thoughts exceed five hundred words is given a rejection slip and told to read the group's guidelines again. Then we discuss what life challenges (lack of time, our inability to "get into character's heads with the word count restrictions, and perhaps our lack of good ideas) that prevent us from sitting down and cranking out abbreviated fiction.

When a meeting is held about why we don't write short stories, we express the lack of self esteem that descends upon us like a black, choking fog when a critiquer might (if we actually wrote and submitted a story) tell us to chop out a thousand or two of the precious words that we worked so hard not to write.

We have decided upon a motto, which is "I'm gonna."

Alos, it is the group's opinion that it is more considerate to locate a published story and to discuss reasons he or she should not have written that story than it is to write one of our own.

Alternately, we discuss how many trees we have saved by not publishing our work. As of last week, I have saved the equivalent of the Amazon forest by not submitting any short stories for the last two years.

Occasionally we tread into deeper, more controversial waters and discuss how much better other authors are than we are, thereby validating our decision not to write.

Joining the "The Comfort Zone" writer's group has been one of the best decisions that I could have made for furthering my writing career.

Next week, we will begin organizing book signings whereby we impersonate published authors that we vaguely resemble, thereby allowing us to participate in their success without any risk to ourselves except someone telling us how much better we look in person.

Charles Gramlich said...

Sphinx Ink and C. S. Harris are actually members of my group and I think they've answered most of those questions here or on C.S.'s blog.

ShadowFalcon said...

I joined a group for a little while, there were no rules or guidelines. It didn't work as people cam two or three times then quit. The founder guy really wanted to keep it going but without structure they tend to fall apart...

Stewart Sternberg said...

vwriter, I was in that group. With you. Seriously.

I went to a meeting of that group with a friend, who is in the Chesterfield group. He and I sat and listened as the group discusses what high school had been like, a Halloween party, a membership drive, and a raffle. What they never once discussed was writing.

My friend and I looked at one another afterward. "Maybe it was a bad night," I offered.

"No, it wasn't a bad night," he said. "They don't really write."

"If we started going to this group and giving it gentle nudges, we could change that in time."

"I belong to a writers group. I don't want to change this one. Besides, they don't write. If they write, they'd be writing. And a nudge wouldn't work."

He was right. What happened to that group that vwriter describes, was an eventual split.

Funny and sadly true posting vwriter.

Stewart Sternberg said...

bird, a lot of groups start because college buds don't want to stop working as a group. I've known a few.

Kate, that sounds great. When I first joined my group that wasn't a group, I thought I was joining a genre group. The split will be a genre group and hopefully as productive as your's has been.

And gasp...romance writing is something I've been thinking about, albiet erotica, but romance.

And Holly, groups aren't for everyone. Whatever is working for you is wonderful.

thanks sphinx. By the way CS HARRIS has an incredible blog. Writers are recommended to go read and participate. Although she is off this week to work on an upcoming novel.

sourdad,applause for starting a writers group. It sounds like it was productive and rewarding. Me? I'm actually credited with breakinhg up a couple groups in my time. Chuck Zangalis wrote on this blog in response to another posting, "Don't get all soft, Stew. You're the guy who destroyed a writers' group with two words."

Stewart Sternberg said...

thanks charles thanks shadowfalcon.,,

I am still curious..has anyone ever been to a writers group where people had to be interviewed or vetted in somehow. A group where there was some requirement regarding membership? The Romance group, or any genre group obviously wants the writer to write in their genre, but besides that?

Susan Miller said...

I actually went searching for a writer's group in my area hoping in someway to find a real live Stu in Mississippi. In my search I came across a site called Meetup.com where people of similar interests sign up to let others know they're interested in a specific topic in their area. So in some sort of throw myself out there type of way I signed up to let people know that I was interested in a writing group.

Now I receive emails two to three times a week of other people that are wanting a writing group. In each email the administrator of the site let's us know that we can be responsible for forming the actual group, and he/she will provide us with the list of people and inform them of the meeting.

Obviously none of us want to take the ultimate responsiblity for the group because nothing formal has been set up. I figure that asking you to dictate by remote satellite would be too much to ask. And then reading 10-20 assignments per week or month from a bunch of wannabes down here may actually inspire you to change your email address and hide.

Thus, the only group I know of is led by you on this site. And once again, I must say thank you.

Avery DeBow said...

I took one of the Writer's Online Workshops two years ago. During that time, I met two other fantasy writers. When the course was ending, one of them has some free web space and proposed continuing the monthly submissions and critiques we'd been doing in class. While our forum was open to everyone who'd participated in the class, only the three of us made the transition. Right now there's not much going on in the way of submissions; one is busy with her paid occupation and the other has already finished his novel and is submitting it to agents, and I'm farting around with getting mine cleaned up. But, we were submitting fifty pages every four weeks and then giving feedback on them. We have plans to do it again when we all get our next projects underway.

I belonged to the HWA once, briefly. That was not-- a beneficial experience for me. It did, however, reinforce my long-held opinion that I'm not a joiner.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Thanks Sue...I'm humbled, and I'm confused. And I'm changing my email.

Avery, I am really curious. You say your HWA membership was of no value. Why is that? What did you expect? Can you elaborate? I am thinking about getting a membership for my spouse and myself so we can go to the convention coming up this March in Toronto.

SourDad said...


You must tell us what those "two words" were that killed a group.

Could be a funny story. Groups do develop interesting dynamics.

Sidney said...

I unfortunately am not currently in a writers group. I used to be part of a primarily romance writers group that welcomed me as an honorary member. It's always energizing to sit around with other writers, and that's why I'm very glad for the online community.

Sheila said...

These are some very interesting questions. I am not part of a writer's group but I was doing research when deciding to attend Oakland University when I transfer and they have a writer's group that I think I might want to join when I go and I think I will email them and ask them all those questions!

Clifford said...

Last year I formed a writer's group specifically for novel critiques. We critique one novel at a time -- breaking it into 3 chunks that are reviewed on a biweekly basis. We can critique an entire novel in 6 weeks.

Here are the answers to your questions:

1) Is your group focused on a particular type of writing. Are you all in the same genre, for instance. Are you all the same age range?

A) There are seven of us and our topics range from chick-lit to horror. Heavy on the thriller/horror side right now. Ages are pretty close -- within about 10 years. All but 2 members were friends of mine (and damn good writers) that I invited to join.

2) Where does your group meet? A book store? A library?

A) My tiny cat-infested apartment.

3) Can anyone join? Or does the person have to go through some kind of vetting process? Or is the group by invitation only.

A) New members, if not invited, go through a vetting process. A couple of the members were in a group with a member that didn't work out so well -- they're now horrified of adding a total stranger without first meeting and sniffing him/her out.

4) What are the rules for the group? Do you read out loud? Do line crits passing out work ahead of time?

A) Novelist whose turn it is sends out a chunk of the novel, we print it out, mark it up, and then discuss it at the meeting. Author collects marked-up copy for later perusal.

Between each novel we have a reading night, where each of us gets up on my makeshift stage and reads from something they're working on -- this is not about critiques, but sharing and egging each other on while honing our skills to read before an audience.

5) How long has the group been in existence, and how long have you been a member.

A) A little over a year. I've always been a member.

Stewart, there's so much mutual respect and good natured ribbing going on at these meetings that even when the work flounders, the author goes home with a head full of ideas about how to fix it. That's really important to me -- or else the group wouldn't be very worthwhile. Everyone in the group is dedicated to their craft -- yeah, the first half hour is dedicated to catching up and talking books and movies, but then we get down to business. When no one has a book to critique, we go on hiatus -- we were on one at the end of 2006 and it was hard on us!

Chuck Zaglanis said...

Rick (vwriter), you kill me. Memories of our time with that group fill me with rage and shame (like Adam Sandler's Waterboy). Yet, for all the juvenile bullshit that went on, I'm glad for the experience. I met some great friends

Stewart Sternberg said...

Sheila, I am really interested in what you find out. I think it is hard to find a group of people that match a person's personality or needs. That doesn't mean a group isn't wonderful, but that it just doesn't fit what a person is looking for at that time.

Sid? A romance group? Was it that you were looking to pick up women? Someone is going to call to task for that statement. No..now romane literature isn't just a woman's field. I've been thinking about writing romance myself. It's just hard to imagine Sid there.

Clifford. Do the cats write?

vrwriter, Chuck, and I are three that split from that genre group that I keep mentioning, you know..the writers' group that never wrote or talked about writing. And you're right Chuck, it wasn't a wasted experience. I have met some great people through there and continue to communicate with them and be encouraged in my work.

Pythia3 said...

Are you trying to find a gentle way of saying, "You're out!?" LOL
I love our group and I will love it even better when I get my butt there!
Everyone has such great advice and I love the diversity. You scary men gave me some better advice on my children's book than my children's critique group.
So I like the fact we all have slightly different styles (well, I know mine is out there!)
I look forward to bringing TimBits to pass!

miller580 said...

I have only belonged to a few. One stemmed from a creative writing class I took at MCCC. The group met once and was headed up by a person who was sort of controlish. (I am being nice). The reason the group met once? It had to meet according to this person’s schedule, this person’s choice of location and it had to follow this person’s protocol. Fortunately, I could not meet for the inaugural meeting. From what I’ve been told the meeting was spent creating agendas and roles and responsibilities. There was no reading or writing. The day after the meeting this person sent out a scathing email to those who originally showed interest to belong to the writers group but did not attend the meeting, criticizing us for not attending. Thankfully, the group disbanded after that email.

At the time I was disappointed because I really wanted to be in a writer’s group. With a little searching, I discovered a group that met less than a mile from my house. I pulled out my most polished story and brought it to the meeting. (Just in case reading and writing was on the “agenda”). It was. Not only was I invited to read, but I was invited to come back. The core of this writer’s group is Stewart, Jon, and John along with several others who attend on and off. This I must say was the best decision I made as a writer. I found in the Chesterfield Writer’s a functional writing group that got together to present and critique the written word.

I realized after writing all this blather that I never actually answered the questions.
1. No, no
2. Library
3. Anyone can go but if you don’t care about writing, you probably won’t want to join.
4. Rules: common sense but really anything goes.
5. The group has been around for several years 8 – 10?), and I have been a part of it for going on three years. (Really, three years).

Since I’ve moved to Florida, I have tried to find or duplicate this group, but have yet to be successful. There is a small group of us who are trying to set a schedule, but so far it has been mostly talk.

I also belong to this little circle of blog writers here on the web. While I am not as active as others, I enjoy reading and commenting when I can and I think (personally) that what has developed here is a bonifide writer’s group.

For the record: My advise to those within earshot of the Chesterfield group and have yet to work up the courage to attend. Be not afraid. Check it out. Stewart’s bark is far worse than his bite. Ok, I am a fiction writer. His bite is worse. But who wants to live life without a few scars?

Christina Rundle said...

I was part of a group and I didn't like it very much. It was a group open for writers all all sorts, which brought in directors and actors and business men and we had a limited amount of time to talk so some people got an hour and everyone had to suffer 10 minutes because our time was almost up. The advice I got wasn't really helpful because I am / was at the time too, a student and I didn't have the money to go to New York and make proposals to the big publishing houses. No one was helping me with the reading so I could see my mistakes. I realized shortly within the year that if you aren't in the movie business, the "writing" groups didn't really help. I told Emory to go do it though because he could have gotten a lot of contacts for his upcoming films that he's been trying to pull together. In the end, I no longer belong to a writing group, and though meetings sound like something I would enjoy. Maybe I'll make my own group as soon as I find people in my area interested in meeting.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Jim, I've always been a nurturing, soft spoken, caring individual, who never could, never would give anything but the most gentle criticism coached in supportive and sensitive terms. Ask Gugon, who has been to two meetings now.

How nurturing am I? I'm lactating as I write.

Christine, I would kill to be writing in California. When I was much younger and stupider I had a chance to move to California and work for Norman Lear and Perrenchio in the enterprise they put together that at the time was ONTV. I'm sure I would have ended up doing filmwriting for some studio. I also had the chance to move to Philadelphia and work for the largest circulation magazine in America, TV GUIDE, BUT NO. NO...I STAYED IN MICHIGAN BECAUSE I HAD MET THE WOMAN OF MY LIFE AND I WAS IN LOVE. I am such a stupid man. I'm an idiot!!

Now? I am divorced and remarried. I love my current wife. And the following statement is no reflection on her, but...I should have gone to California. Okay..I'll calm down.

SQT said...

I'm lactating as I write.

I hate it when that happens.

I don't know about the Cali thing, I live here and I even worked in Hollywood for awhile. I think it's pretty over-rated.

The entertainment industry doesn't give a crap about quailty. They only care if it sells, and it's better to know someone who can sell it for you. Trying to get your foot in the door is brutally hard. That's how I got the job-- knowing somebody.

Ormondroyd's Encyclopedia Esoterica said...

Vwriter's Comfort Zone Manifesto was funny and dead on.
Holly Kennedy's description of "like-minded writers... who I connected with and who were similarly ambitious and determined" is the goal. My social circle of artistic types had a mortality rate like a combat platoon and I had trouble finding people to take their place.
During a summer in Chicago I window shopped a lot of open mics until I found a group that accepted me and that had the kind of professional and semi-pro encouragement and enthusiasm I need to keep me working. It's a long drive from Kalamazoo but worth it. Come to think, my other most productive group experience was in Chicago, too. It might be like the farm club situation in sports-- the bigger the talent pool, the better your odds of assembling a worthwhile group.
The open mics have a time limit (15 minutes for prose, 10 for poetry) and from there the more serious writers sort of find each other. Also the core members/group founders make the effort to play yentah and introduce people around, make connections, suggest contacts, take the shy by the hand (some of this is asking introverts in a solitary occupation to admit their deepest aspirations).

Kate S said...

Stewart, you're thinking of writing erotic romance? Cool!

(Dark Vadar Breathing on)Give in to the dark side of the force...(DVB off)

I've been thinking about giving it up, but I just started on one tonight to submit for a Dragon anthology and I'm having fun with it. So, maybe just one more for the road. :)

ORION said...

Thanks for visiting my blog! Writers groups are problematic for me. I don't work and play well with others.
I love retreats though. They are short, intense and moderated.

lee said...

I would like to be able to write in order to be part of a group - am envious of you Mr Sternberg -oh, and everyone else as well :).

SQT said...

I'm envious of those who get to work with Stewart in person. I don't know that I would go out of my way to find a writers group. I doubt I'd be that comfortable with just anyone critiquing my writing. But since I know Stewart from the blog assignment, there's a little trust already built in. I doubt I'll join a writers group.

Chuck Zaglanis said...

He isn't lying folks, he really is a nurturer.

I've seen Stew soak through four, even five shirts at a meeting. It's all honeyed words, fresh baked brownies and a glass of (peculiar tasting) warm milk.

DesLily said...

this isn't about what you asked but I had to tell you... it's so weird.. I keep getting a security alert when I open your blog .. for 3 days now... very odd.

Sidney said...

Well, Stewart, I think I was already married all the time that I knew that group. The group was, I think, a formal chapter of Romance Writers of America. They often had good speakers and were the most active writer's group in my area at the time, though they seemed dwell a lot on "scene and sequel."

I even went to Romance Writers of America's convention one year when it was in New Orleans.

There were several men involved in the group, by the way, including one very nice guy who I think wrote science fiction.

Stewart Sternberg said...

deslily, I get a security warning when I attempt to open up the comment section of different blogs as well. I think that is the firewall at work, telling you that google is trying to throw a cookie on there, and that Statskeeper is trying to get information. Statskeeper tells me when someone comes to the page, where they come from, their location, and what browser they are using.

DesLily said...

this isn't "do you want to see unsecure items".. this is a full blown security alert saying the name on the certificate doesn't match something... I get the small alerts on comments in some blogs too.. this one is way different. I didn't get it this time but I did last time. I don't plan on not coming to read your blog or your comments... it just freaked me out lol...

Anonymous said...

Hey, Stewart. 41 comments? You're on fire! My writing group that meets at Barnes & Noble is open to anyone. I am one of three moderators. However, I am happy to report I was just accepted into a community writers group at Franklin & Marshall College. I had to send 10-20 pp of fiction, a synopsis, and a letter of interest. I got accepted. I am very excited and will happily report the group dynamics of my new group in Feb.

SP said...

I believe that if you are serious about your writing, joining a writer's group is an invaluable asset -- just as if offering up your writing for critiques, going to conventions and workshops, and networking with other writers, editors, publishers, etc. is

I won't comment on the writing group I founded a few years ago. It had some bumpy times this past year but hopefully, it's gotten stronger because of it.