Tuesday, July 10, 2018

What Do You Look for in a Writing Group?

That question has been on my mind a lot lately. When we write, we're usually alone; it's a solo process. When we want feedback or advice or direction, we want to turn to other writers, not non-writers. That means we need to be part of some kind of writing community.

I've been part of four writing communities over the past decade. One fizzled out, one was so huge you felt like you'd never get noticed or respected, one is a local online group that I'm fairly new in and am not sure if I'm going to stay, and the third I helped carve out and create. You'd think the last one would still be solid gold, but it's not. It's kind of existing right now. The writers who originally were a part of it have either reached a measure of success and no longer need a writing group, or they're too busy, or have gone in an entirely new direction. The remainder are still seeking publication or a sense of community, but the hunger isn't there any more.

What do I mean by hunger? That thirst to figure out how the writing/publishing world works and where we stand in it. There's vulnerability and its partner, courage. Eagerness to interact and try new things. A sense of wanting to help make a writing community something to be proud of.

I get it: after so many years, people get burned out or tired, or pretty much have things figured out. Sometimes we're so wrapped up in the writing or revision process that the timing isn't right. Life happens and pulls us away from that sense of community. Writing forum leaders get burned too many times, or find that their writing time has been sucked away into trying to make their forums relevant and fun so they quit. I've come dangerously close to that a time or two. Yet, I like being part of a writing community, and I like the friends I've made who are sticking it out with me.

So I ask myself, what do I want in a writing forum?

Honestly ...
1. Friends who understand the writing journey and can commiserate with me.
2. Conversations about writing and publishing. It's the lifeblood of any good forum.
3. Networking. Helping each other connect with others and expanding our reach.
4. Critique partners that will want to read my work as badly as they want me to read theirs.
5. Mutual respect. Recognizing that not all writing paths are the same, and even though we may like each other as people, it doesn't mean we have to love what each other writes. And that's okay. It's a huge bonus if we love each other's genres and styles, but that shouldn't be the deciding factor of our friendship. We also don't have to follow the same pathway to publication.
6. A forum where I don't have to feel like I have to carry the entire burden of making it a great experience for everyone else. Or where anyone else feels like they have to either. Some people love to dominate conversations and threads, of course, but no one should feel compelled to.
7. Fun. Games, trivia, contests, getting-to-know-you activities. A place where I can enjoy the company of other writers.
8. No fear. Meaning, no one is patronizing or rude or a troll to anyone else. No worries about someone else copying anyone else's work or ideas. No fear that if someone takes that leap of courage and puts their work out there for feedback that everyone else won't descend like a pack of bloodthirsty sharks and rip not only their work, but them as a person, to pieces.

Sounds idyllic, I know.

The most important thing I've learned, as both a participant and a forum leader, is that it takes more than bells and whistles and guests and fun to make a forum work. It takes participation and dedication from the members. A forum dies when people only come to take and never give back. I am grateful for the many people I've known who understand the give and take of a writing community. I wish I could collect them all and stay together.

What do you look for in a writing group/forum? What would make the perfect place for you to be nurtured and/or do the nurturing of other writers? What would make you want to come back to that place for years?

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