|Pun very much intended.|
With that said, I find there's a lot of assumptions we make involving these groups... both the ones that get together in meat space, and those that exist primarily online. So I thought I'd take this week to talk about what's reasonable, and what might be setting yourself up for disappointment.
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What You Can Expect
First of all, let's talk about reasonable expectations for a writers' group.
You are probably going to be sharing the room with people who have some pretty wide ranging levels of experience and skill. You'll have the hobbyists who are here to refine their skills and craft, but who really view it as more of a social activity, or who just enjoy being storytellers. They aren't looking to go pro. You'll probably have at least one reporter or former reporter who's hoping to pull a Thomas Harris and step over that line from non-fiction to fiction. You might have an essayist, and probably one or two folks who really love doing research. Chances are good there's at least one writer from the local high school or college scene, and you've got a better-than-even shot that someone is hoping to write a comic book of some variety.
There will more than likely be a sense of camaraderie. Even if the people in your group don't write in the same genre you do, or they prefer a different style and format, there are some experiences that all writers can empathize with. You'll also gain access to a bunch of different writers' brains, and they might spit out ideas that wouldn't have occurred to you, or offer changes that you were too close to the manuscript to see.
|What about the bad stuff?|
On the other side of the coin, you're going to walk into some egos in any writers' group. I promise you, it's going to happen. You're going to have people who are condescending, people who tell you how they would write your book, and people who get offended that you don't take their suggestions. You'll probably have at least one person dismiss your entire genre as a fad, a waste of time, or trash. Basically the same sort of down-the-nose treatment genre fiction gets in a lot of college classrooms. Depending on the community you may run into folks who lack social skills, hygiene, or who have mistaken this group for a speed-dating service, as well.
It takes all kinds.
What You Shouldn't Expect
Between movies about writing, TV shows featuring authors, and the unreal events we sometimes see in the stories we tell, it's really easy to show up at a writers' group expecting the moon and stars to align in your favor. So let me pop a couple of bubbles, and hopefully save folks a lot of time, and a lot of frustration.
|Hello? Career defining moment, are you here?|
You are not going to meet an agent in your writers' group. You are not going to meet a really successful author at your group, and have them introduce you to their agent. While there is a permutation of events where this is technically possible, if you're banking on those odds you should be buying lottery tickets instead, because the Powerball will be a cakewalk compared to making that other scenario come to pass.
Get all those Cinderella stories out of your head. You show up to a writers' group because you're looking for feedback, and because you want to improve your skills. You're not getting discovered by the ten other scribblers who meet in the library community room on the weekend.
While we're on the subject, you're probably not going to find a lot of good information about going from writing the manuscript to getting published, or selling copies once you are published. You might get lucky (especially if you're in an online group rather than an in-person one), but you're just as likely to get bad or outdated advice as you are anything useful; the writing equivalent of your grandparents telling you to dress up nice and go fill out a physical application, then talk to the store manager to get a job in the digital economy.
Lastly, don't expect a writers' group to utterly remake you as a writer, or to discover the secret you've been looking for. Folks might be talented, experienced, or offer good suggestions, but ultimately these meetings are just support groups for folks who tell stories. They keep you on task, and hold you at least a little bit accountable. They'll offer community, and sometimes a helpful trick here and there, but it's still on you to do the work, submit the story, network, etc., etc.
Just keep that in mind when you seek out a group. Make sure you're going there for the right reasons, and that you aren't looking for something you're not going to find. Also, if you're shopping for an online writers' group, beware of ANYONE offering to publish you. Always do your research, and make sure you're not about to get taken for a ride.
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That's all for this week's Craft of Writing! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my cat noir novel Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, or my most recent short story collection The Rejects!
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