As today was the monthly meeting of the Schenectady Writing Assistance Group, I thought it might be an apt topic for a post today.
Our group was formed following NaNoWriMo in 2008. We'd spoken to several participants who wanted to continue writing throughout the year, and who had trouble making it to the write-ins and other events. Or, they had too much going on in November, but still wanted that interaction from other writers. It just so happens that a lot of us are in similar situations with our writing - we've been tinkering with it for some time, but still consider ourselves amateurs.
Since the formation, we've lost and gained members, some of whom have publication credits. One member since the beginning was just picked up by an ebook publisher. She writes romance, and I'll link to it when her book becomes available. She and I write very different stories, but we've each found our voices, which is probably why we're crit partners.
Our group is more informal than a lot of writing groups. We don't critique entire novels, though most of us are working on novels. We'll critique a chapter, and maybe a later chapter during a later meeting. We only critique one or two members per meeting, and some of us (*cough* like the thin-skinned among us *cough*) get away with getting two critiques a year, or fewer.
Most of what we all get out of the group is the social aspect. Writing is a solitary activity, as I'm sure you know, if you're reading the blog. We acknowledge that, as well as how hard it is to really dig into the subject without our friends' eyes glazing over. The meetings are where we can talk about how figuring out the bad guy's eye color has changed everything, and everyone else will nod knowingly. We set goals, but there are no punishments for missing our goals. The only reward for consistently meeting our goals is that we can be smug about it, and we can set the bar however low we want.
We also have informal write-ins every other week, which are another opportunity for social interaction. We're trying to cut it down so that there's some time to write without distractions in the middle, but we're still figuring that out. We're experimenting now with asking people, at the beginning of the write-in, if they can move elsewhere if they want a conversation so they don't distract the rest of us, and setting aside 7 - 9 PM for just writing.
Every once in a while, we have community write-ins at local libraries and coffee shops, and we invite our NaNoWriMo friends and ask them to get the word out.
I can't say for certain if the writing group has helped me with my writing. I know I've been consistently writing since its formation, and I like the friendships I've formed with members of the group. Sometimes, it feels like more of a distraction than a help, but I can't imagine going without.
I highly recommend a writer's group, if you can arrange one. If you're looking for a group as informal as SWAG, then your local NaNoWriMo chapter may be the best place to start. If not, your library may have an already-established writing group, or know of one. Check your local community college, bookstores, or anywhere else aspiring writers or bibliophiles hang out. If there isn't one already established, consider starting one, or joining one online.
And if the first one doesn't work out, don't get discouraged. Writing groups can fall apart for a lot of reasons. We're really lucky to have the group we do; we're agreeable, open to ideas, and flexible, and we generally agree on our purpose and what we should be doing. If you're not getting anything out of your group, or they're not what you wanted out of a group, you're under no obligation to stay, even if you've made friends there.
Especially if you've made friends, for that matter. Some of my favorite people I don't see very often are former SWAGers. We all respected our friends a lot more for standing up to say they weren't getting as much out of the meetings anymore, or had other things to do.