The Value and Fun of Writers Groups by Linda O. Johnston

lindaphotoLinda O. Johnston, a former lawyer who is now a full-time writer, currently writes two mystery series for Midnight Ink involving dogs: the Barkery and Biscuits Mysteries, and the Superstition Mysteries.  She has also written the Pet Rescue Mystery Series, a spinoff from her Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime and also currently writes for Harlequin Romantic Suspense as well as the Alpha Force paranormal romance miniseries about shapeshifters for Harlequin Nocturne.  Her most recent release is her 44th published novel, with more to come.
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I have been a writer for a long time, and love it.  And one of the things that I find particularly valuable to me and to my writing is joining writers groups. 
 
If you’re a writer and you don’t belong to any kind of writers group, I highly suggest that you find one or more to join. They provide knowledge, support, friendship and more.
 
I’m using the term writers group very generally here, to include all kinds of groups and organizations where writers, whether published or not, join together because they are writers.  The groups have various backgrounds and purposes–and so do their members.
 
One basic kind is a critique group.  I belonged to a wonderful one for twenty years or so before it disbanded.  Around four to six of us at a time got together often to read portions of our own work aloud and critique each other’s stories and writing.  The value was in learning what other people thought of something we’d written so we could determine if any changes were needed before submitting it to an agent or publisher.  Plus, there was a lot of value in simply getting together with friends whose actual day-job careers were different but who all loved something we each treasured: writing.
 
I also belonged to a couple of critique groups at different times where a number of people paid a published, sometimes noted author to belong to the group.  In one, we each could get a critique every time we met.  In another, we would each schedule when our critiques would occur and submit copies of several pages of our work at the session before our critique.  We received comments from each other, but also from the skilled and noted author, again providing help in what we were doing.
 
Those weren’t my only critique groups, either.  Some lasted a long time, but most others were only for a few weeks before they either disbanded because we didn’t gel right, or I simply withdrew because I didn’t get what I’d hoped for out of it.
 
Another kind of writers group that I value is belonging to organizations where members also love and promote a particular genre.  I currently belong to Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime, as well as chapters of those organizations that are local to my home in Los Angeles.  I enjoy them all!  I used to always suggest that everyone I knew who wrote fiction should join RWA because of the general writing support it provided, but lately it has narrowed its focus to–what else?–romance writing and reading.  It remains a wonderful organization but it’s not for everyone.  MWA and SinC are for those who write mysteries of any kind.  Sisters in Crime was started years ago when there was less support and regard for women who wrote mysteries.  That has changed over time but the organization goes on–and now there are also “mister sisters.”  And oh, yes.  I also belong to the Dog Writers Association of America. 
There are also more general writing groups which members join because of what they do and proximity to where they live, not necessarily because they write the same kinds of things.  Some of them are fairly large and have monthly meetings where members can hear speakers and schmooze as they eat and discuss what they’re up to in their writing.  That includes the Independent Writers Club of Southern California (IWCSC).  I’ve attended some of their meetings now and then but am not a regular member.
 
Then there are wonderful, supportive groups like Writers in Residence, which I was privileged enough to join recently.  It’s a group composed of delightful, caring and smart women who get together to discuss where we’re all going in our writing careers and support one another–in our discussions and online on social media and more.  Some of us write in similar genres but not everyone.  We’re all at different stages of our writing careers.  And I feel very fortunate and happy now to be a member!
 
There are probably plenty of kinds of writing groups I didn’t mention here–but feel free to add them in a comment.

12 thoughts on “The Value and Fun of Writers Groups by Linda O. Johnston”

  1. You make a terrific point about joining a writer’s group, Linda. We all need feedback and to know that others are going through or have been through the rigors of writing. And finding a group that fits is essential. Some groups are all ego and nothing else. I want honesty in any critiquing, but not a hacksaw. And sometimes just talking with other writers and their encouragement is more than enough to get you to your goal. Good post.

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    1. Thanks, Gayle. You’re right that any group needs to work well for a writer joining it. Trust and belief that whoever’s conducting a critique knows what they’re talking about is the whole reason to join a critique group. And other groups–well, they have to fit what the writer needs, too, or why bother?

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  2. It’s great to have you in our WinR group, Linda! And I agree with everything you wrote in your post. Writers tend to be solitary creatures, so the chance to get out and mingle with like-minded people is essential to the process, in my opinion. And when you find a good critique group, one where the feedback makes sense and where you can make a genuine contribution to the other members—treasure and nurture that! They’re hard to find!
    You yourself pointed me toward the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and it’s been a great resource too, since that is my writing genre. I’d felt like an odd duck, neither a mystery nor a romance writer, until I found WFWA. My tribe!

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  3. Thanks, Bonnie! You’re right that writing by its nature requires that whoever’s doing it nearly always has to do it by herself, so finding others to meet up with who have similar backgrounds is fun and valuable. Glad the WFWA works for you!

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  4. How appropriate that you chose this subject for your first official WInR post, Linda. I would never have gotten published if it wasn’t for writers groups. I can’t over stress the importance of finding support and encouragement from other writers, which is as critical as getting fair and helpful comments from them. I also appreciated the chance to learn from critiquing both good and awful writing.

    I belong to several groups, including one type that you didn’t mention. “Just Write” is a local open group that meets at a coffeehouse once a week. We bring our pads or laptops and just write for two hours. Afterward we adjourn to a local tavern for conversation and a pint of wine – yes, you read that right.

    Great post, Linda.

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    1. Miko is one of the best critique-givers I know. She gives long, constructive, well-thought-out help to beginning as well as advanced readers! She can see “the whole picture” something we writers can’t do, for looking at the details so much.

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  5. Thanks Linda. I belong to several of the organizations you mentioned, plus the California Writer’s Club, originally started by (or in honor of, I can’t remember which) Jack London. They are mainstream writers, and their monthly speakers offer a variety of good stuff to consider.
    Thanks for reminding writers to not be solitary in their creating love, adventure, or malice and mayhem!

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    1. Sounds like a great group. I’ve been asked to give a presentation at their Ridgecrest chapter in a couple of months and I’m looking forward to it. And yes, it’s too easy for us to be solitary, with only the company of our computers.

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  6. Great post, Linda, always good to hear about “things”–people, places, organizations, etc. that can help writers get better and move forward. Forty-four books–I’m in awe and inspired!

    ((Current proud member of California Writers Club HDCWC, Sisters in Crime (Int., LA, Central Coast), and Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA), and I owe all of them, and Writers in Residence particularly, for keeping me going.))

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