Thursday, November 10, 2011

Debating the need for a writers' group

You've been writing a while, you've got your first (or fifth or tenth) novel finished, your short story is done . . . now what?  You'd like to have someone else read it, but who?

My friend, let's discuss the need for a writers' group.

Do you absolutely need one to get published?  No.  But what a better way to, not only connect with other writers who may be struggling with the same issues as you, get a group of impartial critics of your work.

Over the next several weeks, I'll touch on the finer points of a writers' group.  Today, I'll start with where to find one.

I live in northwest Minnesota, where there are probably more white-tailed deer than people (or so it seems).  Back in college, I attendeded a few fiction writing classes (taught by famed award-winning Minnesota author Will Weaver) and for each class you had to read something to the rest of the class.  This was my first taste of a writers' group.  Even though we were classmates, all of us were writers, with varying aspiration about the craft and skill level.

Let's jump ahead to the year 2003.  This would be in the early summer and my daughter Mariah was just born.  The librarian at the time knew I loved to write and asked if I'd be interested in joining a writers' group that she was starting up.  She did some writing, but ran into several others who also did.  At this point, the only writers' group was about 90 miles away in Roseau, MN.  Long story short, the Permanent Ink writers' group was born in Red Lake Falls, MN.

I won't dwell on the group's history, except for one: over the years (8 and still going strong), we've had an eclectic sort of people attend our group meetings.  We've had poets, playwrights, novelists, and short story writers.  We've had people working on their family histories and others who are working on a fantasy epic.

Great, Mark!  But where do I find one?

First, I'd check with either your local library or bookstore to see if they know of one.  Chances are, if you live in a town of at least 5,000 people, at least one exists.  Then again, where Permanent Ink meets every three weeks, our community has a little over a thousand people.

What if there are no such groups?  Create one.  Ask the librarian about where you can meet, ask them to help promote your group, and do it.  Once you do, you might want to set up some groundrules on how often, how long each person can read for, and what type of material.  Don't worry about electing a board of directors or having a group president or anything like that.  We don't, and we've been operating pretty consistently for over 8 years.

I'll explore this topic a little more in depth soon, on how to set one up and who you want in your group.  The bottom line is that the people who join need to be dedicated to writing and offering both positive and honest feedback.  If your story sucks, have them tell you specifically.  Do you need to take each and every person's advice.  No way.  Take what works, and you'll find your stories will start to improve.

Happy writing!

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