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Today is the five-year anniversary of my little writing group.

This is quite the milestone, because before the Sparkling Werewolves (our group is nothing if not sarcastic) I was quite adamant that writing groups didn’t work.

After everything I had been through, you couldn’t really blame me.

My first group consisted of me and two male writer friends. We met at my home on a monthly basis, and it was great–except for the fact that two of us weren’t writing. Month after month, we showed up empty handed, and instead of being inspired as our friend churned out a novel, we got more disillusioned and depressed.

Suddenly, my two friends campaigned to add another guy to the group. Admittedly, I balked at the idea of welcoming a stranger into my home. I wondered how our dynamic would change, although I was more than willing to meet this “newbie.” But before I knew it, our group wasn’t meeting anymore. My friends were always too busy. I eventually found out that they’d started meeting with the newbie instead, and before I knew it, they’d added two more people to their new group.

One of my friends apologized for meeting behind my back, and promised I could join their group any time I liked. So the following year, when I finally started writing seriously again, I asked if I could participate.

The answer? No, because they were afraid their dynamic might change! Figures. Sadly, I found out that one of my own friends had voted against me joining. πŸ™

I found another group who met at a bookstore. This group was full of strangers, some of whom became very close friends. It was great…until the group leader, whom we all loved, moved away. Everything seemed to fall apart after that. It just wasn’t the same, even though everyone tried to keep it going. Even though it had been a fun social experience, I doubted it had done anything to improve my writing, so I left.

I was invited to yet another group, which ended up not being a good mix. One person loudly dominated both meetings I attended, and that was the end of that. No more group. People didn’t know how to get rid of her, so they just stopped showing up.

After this last experience, I wasn’t shy about saying writing groups were a waste of time. I’d heard agents disparage them, saying they resulted in manuscripts that read like they’d been written by committee. Over time I missed the camaraderie that comes from talking, brainstorming and commiserating with a group of writers.

Unable to find a group that fit me, I started my own. The Sparkling Werewolves has had five members, but it’s settled into three–a horror writer, a romance writer, and a young-adult writer. In the time we’ve been meeting, two of us have been published, and the one who hasn’t been (yet) inspires us everyday with his work ethic, his enthusiasm, and his ability to go without sleep for days at a time.

We avoid two of the pitfalls that have befallen Writing Groups of the Past. With some exceptions, we don’t read each other’s work for critique–we’re too busy. We also don’t read our work aloud at meetings. What we do is share resources and information (one member is responsible for my awesome book trailer; the other told me about the Samhain call that resulted in my first published book), plan and set goals, celebrate our accomplishments, and commiserate over our failures.

Over the past few years, the people in my writing group have become two of my closest friends. I look forward to seeing them every month, and it’s a great comfort to know we always have each other’s backs.

Writing is one of the loneliest jobs in the world–but it doesn’t have to be.

Do you have a writing group? Why or why not? How have writing groups worked for you? Would you ever consider starting one of your own?

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group’s purpose is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

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Lots of people ask me how I managed to quit the day job and make working for myself a reality. I’d love to help as many people as I can, so I’m offering a four-week online course this fall that will teach you how to turn your passion into a sustainable income.

If this is something you’d be interested in, please let me know in the comments. You can also send me an email at jh (at) jhmoncrieff (dot) com. What is your passion? What keeps you from escaping your cubicle right now? And how do you learn best? Do you prefer podcasts, videos, or emails?

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49 Comments

  1. Toi Thomas

    I love the dynamic of your writting group, small numbers and no reading for critique. I’ve often considered starting a writing group, but have no idea what the basis of it would be or how to start it. I’m glad to know you’ve found a support system that works for you.

    Reply
    • JH

      Hi Toi,

      Thanks! Sometimes you need to just start, as simplistic as that might sound. I began with one writer who was a friendly acquaintance from the bookstore group, and then invited two people I didn’t really know at all, but who seemed cool. I liked their personalities. And it turned out great!

      Ironically, the one person who didn’t work out was the one I knew the best and was the closest to. One of my long-term members is a reporter who used to interview me when I worked at a museum. I didn’t even know he was a fiction writer until I asked.

      Reply
  2. Madeline Mora-Summonte

    I used to belong to a small group that met and did timed writing exercises. We’d read them out loud and say only what we liked about the others’ work – a great line, amazing imagery, etc – nothing negative. It was all about creativity and stretching the writing muscle. πŸ™‚

    Reply
    • JH

      That sounds like fun, Madeline! I’m finding it so invaluable just to have “co-workers” to discuss the trials and tribulations of the writing life with.

      Now that I’m working for myself at home, it can get pretty lonely.

      Reply
  3. Alex J. Cavanaugh

    I would’ve been gun-shy about a writing group as well after all that.
    You guys don’t read each others’ work? Clever idea. Maybe that’s why it has worked so well.
    And I’ve been meaning to tell you – you have one of the coolest author photos ever.

    Reply
    • JH

      Oh, thanks Alex! All that credit goes to Joel Ross, one of my city’s best photographers. That pic was taken after five hours of shooting. I’d put on my coat, was exhausted, and just wanted to go home, when he ran to get his camera…AGAIN. πŸ™‚

      I hated the groups where everyone just read their work aloud. Unless the author was a very engaging reader, I found it difficult to focus and provide a good critique. I do better when I can see the words on the page.

      Reply
  4. Elle

    We’ve been meeting for five years? I didn’t realize it had been that long. Yes, I love our little group too. Sparkling Werewolves (who wants to guess which series was topping the charts when we started) rule!

    Reply
    • JH

      Yes, we do! I was surprised it had been that long as well. Congrats on being the only other five-year member!

      It’s been a bonus that our friendship has grown and developed along the way as well.

      Reply
  5. Anna

    My town is so small that there is little or no interest, so I went on-line and found people that way. I can’t imagine doing it alone. πŸ™‚

    Anna from Elements of Writing

    Reply
    • JH

      Good for you, Anna! I definitely have plenty of online writer friends too, and while I think there’s a benefit to meeting in person, if you’re in a really small community, it might not be an option.

      However, in small communities, it might be easier to get the word out and find the other writers. There has to be at least one….

      Reply
  6. Stephanie Scott

    The group dynamic thing is tough, because it’s both true and exclusionary if you’re not part of the group. I’m part of a group of 4 and we have a good groove going. Someone approached us about joining–who writes different material than we do, and honestly, is a difficult person to interact with. I felt bad saying no, but no one in the group felt comfortable with the idea.

    I think it can take awhile to find people you connect with. I have some CPs I work with online who are irreplaceable.

    Reply
    • JH

      Hi Stephanie! Thanks for commenting.

      I agree–I know I certainly felt excluded when I was told I couldn’t join my “old” group. It really hurt my feelings and took some time to get over.

      If anyone approached us asking the same, we’d definitely consider letting them in. While we love our dynamic, we’re open to new members. The fewer the members, though, the easier it is to pick a day when everyone is available. That’s already a challenge sometimes.

      Reply
  7. Anita

    Hi Holli,
    Thanks for being so honest about your experiences with writing groups, especially the ones that didn’t work, but ultimately finding one that turned out to work very well. I actually like the fact that you guys don’t critique, because sometimes it’s more about needing the moral support or just needing to bounce story ideas off of one another and saying “Do you think this might work?” type of thing. My experience has largely been with online critique groups and one in-person group who, although well-intentioned, wasn’t the right fit but it was a great experience for my teenage self πŸ™‚ I’m glad you’ve found a support system that works for you πŸ™‚

    PS your group name is awesome

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Anita. The decision not to critique wasn’t because we didn’t want to offend each other, but because we don’t have time! We’re all so busy that there was only so much we could add to our plates. But if there’s a book emergency, we’re there.

      I love the moral support. It’s the absolute best. Thanks for the kind words!

      Reply
  8. Roland Yeomans

    I am leary about writing groups. I am glad yours works. Ernest Hemingway said writers had to write in isolation, but he had the greatest writing group of all in Paris when he started out, right? Life is nothing if not ironic. πŸ™‚

    Reply
    • JH

      True enough. Someone else said that you have to find your own path. Hemingway was a great writer, but he wasn’t the only writer. Do what works for you, I say.

      I’ve really been enjoying your blog posts!

      Reply
  9. Bonnie

    Hi Holli. What an interesting journey. I’ve had a hard time finding critique groups and feel insecure about approaching established ones. When I ask other writers about thei groups, they wave their hands and say how they met through a writing program or they only write memoires, or xxx. Fill in whatever “I don’t want to encourage you to actually join us excuse”. Other than a SCBWI group, I haven’t been to a critique group. SCBWI was nice, but the members wrote picture books. My ten pages of YA Science Fiction felt a little out of place.

    I’m trying online groups now. Started in May, so I’ll let you know how it goes after some more time. I’ve been thinking of starting a writers meetup and discussion type group, instead of critiquing. It’s encouraging that yours works.

    Reply
    • JH

      You can always start your own! That way, you know it will work for you. The only trick is finding likeminded people, but with the internet and things like meetup.com, it’s a lot easier these days.

      I formed my group after meeting everyone in person, but I did feel weird contacting a guy I’d seen at a party, saying, “Hey, are you a writer by any chance?” But he was, and he made a great addition to the group before he moved to Vancouver.

      It’s totally worth it! Good luck.

      Reply
  10. Crystal Collier

    I have a couple writing groups, populated with my best blogger friends. They’re all digital groups, but I know my chums have got my back when something major happens, and that’s the greatest comfort.

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s awesome, Crystal! It’s really important to have that kind of support network.

      Reply
  11. Megan Morgan

    I’ve never been in a writing group, but it sounds like a great idea–I need to go looking for one, I suppose. Though I like the idea of just talking about writing instead of your own writing–especially when you write in different genres.

    Reply
    • JH

      Talking about the writing life is the best part, Megan. It’s so rare to be able to do that without judgment. Ironically, even on the IWSG Facebook page I’ve been criticized for being insecure! πŸ™‚ Sometimes you need a safe place to discuss your worries and fears.

      And to brag shamelessly to people who won’t take it the wrong way or be jealous. πŸ˜‰

      Reply
  12. Patricia Lynne

    I have friends who do writing groups, but I have yet to try it. I’m too shy in real life to do something like that. And yes, even with people I know. That’s just as scary.

    Reply
    • JH

      Maybe a group where you just talk about the writing life and how it’s going would work for you too, Patricia. It’s a lot less intimidating than reading your work or having it publicly critiqued.

      Reply
  13. Crystal

    I used to have a writing group (two actually), and I definitely am still in touch with some of the people I met through them. We don’t meet anymore, and it used to make me sad, until I realize that it was really great while it lasted, and I was happy for the time that I had with each! I’m sorry one of your groups started to meet without you. That really isn’t a great feeling – but I think you’ve found a pretty darn spectacular alternative. πŸ™‚

    While I do sometimes miss a good critique session, I’ve found that I’ve got the person I talk through my writing issues with, and outside of that relationship, a good editor takes care of the rest.

    I love that your group gets together for support and motivation rather than critique. I think it’s a brilliant idea!

    (PS: Hi Elle! :D)

    Reply
    • JH

      Imagine SiWC on a more intimate and frequent scale–that’s what it’s like. It’s awesome. I’d have you or Heather join our group in a heartbeat.

      I’m sorry your group didn’t last. I’m surprised and happy mine has made it to five years. When my friend left it, I was pretty bummed, but thankfully the Sparkling Werewolves made a full recovery!

      You can always talk to me too. Distance may separate us physically, but not intellectually or emotionally!

      Reply
  14. Chrys Fey

    Happy Anniversary! Your writing group sounds wonderful. It sounds like you know how to run a really good group. πŸ™‚

    Reply
    • JH

      Only through trial and error, Chrys. I obviously did something wrong with the first group. I never did find out why they started meeting without me, other than they really liked the other guy.

      Reply
  15. C. Lee McKenzie

    You must have a fit or writing groups just don’t work. Glad you kept at it until you found what you needed.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Lee. I totally agree. It took a while, but I’m glad I found my match. Funny how just one person can throw off an entire group–I’ve seen that happen twice now.

      Reply
      • C. Lee McKenzie

        That’s where the old saying comes from about the rotten apple, right?

        Reply
  16. Birgit

    Hmm I find it sad of that first group-what they did. My gut feeling is they were intimidated by you. I am just guessing but usually when groups do this to another, they feel threatened in one way or another. I have a feeling groups do work once you find the right one and it looks like you created yours and it is working so that’s great

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Birgit. If that’s true, I wonder what they were intimidated by! I was one of the ones not writing. It was my first stint as a freelance journalist, and I was consumed by all the writing I had to do for my job.

      That said, some of my friends back then were jealous that I was able to make a good living being my own boss and working from home. Those people are not in my life today.

      Reply
  17. Lexa Cain

    I’m glad that after all that, you ended up with a group & dynamic you’re happy with. I’ve never been a fan of writing groups that meet in person. It’s just too hard to find the time (starts feeling like a deadline, an obligation) and stronger personalities dominate. I used online writing forums, learned a LOT, and eventually a core developed of 5 authors with another 5 floating in and out. 3 of us got agents, 5 published. Even when not writing, we frequent the forum to give others moral support and do crits. I’d never have gotten an agent or been pubbed without my group. They’re awesome!! πŸ™‚

    Reply
    • JH

      That sounds amazing, Lexa! What a find.

      I agree that stronger personalities can dominate. We don’t have that with our group, unless I’m secretly dominating and don’t know it. πŸ˜‰ It’s a lot easier to find meeting times and balance the discussion with just three people. I would be comfortable with four, but I don’t think I’d want to go much larger than that.

      The most important thing for me is to have optimistic, generally happy people in the group. We share rants and commiserate, but in general we’re good natured and all of us feel pumped and inspired after a meeting. I look forward to them like crazy.

      Reply
  18. Cherie Reich

    To get my work critiqued, I have some online critique partners (a couple have even worked as editors). I do belong to a local writers’ group. We meet twice a month and have 15-20 people typically at meetings. We “raise hands” in an email the president sends out to ask to read our work. We usually have time for 4-6 people and up to five pages of work to be read per person. At the meeting, the author reads the work aloud, and we critique it afterwards. We have from newbies to veteran writers in it, and it’s a chapter of the statewide writers’ group and has been in existence for 33 years. This type of group really helps some people, but I mainly go because I enjoy the camaraderie. Plus, I was somehow elected vice president and have to attend. LOL! I also belong to an online writers’ group, and we mainly share information, lament on the lack of sales, and generally just have fun chatting together. Writers’ groups don’t work for everyone, but it’s sure nice to have other like people around to talk to.

    Reply
    • JH

      I agree, Cherie. Thanks for sharing the story of your writers’ groups. The one you belong to now sounds much like the bookstore one I mentioned, except we were quite a bit smaller (about 10-12 active members) and a little more informal. Almost everyone read at every meeting, which was part of the problem. It gets really difficult to stay focused through hours of reading, and not everyone was an engaging reader. After our leader left, there was less structure, and some of the more monotone readers went on and on and on, with no one willing to cut them off. The meetings became a chore.

      Good for you for stepping up and being vice-president! I think it’s awesome that you’re willing to contribute your time to something you enjoy. How did you find good critique partners?

      Reply
  19. Diane Burton

    You know the saying that you have to kiss a lot of frogs before finding a prince? Sounds like that’s what you’ve done with writing groups.After all the disappointments, I’m glad you’ve found supportive people. Best wishes.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Diane. That’s a great saying, and it definitely applies.

      Reply
  20. AJ Lauer (@ayjaylauer)

    I’ve heard so many horror stories about writing groups that I haven’t joined one yet. I did meet a lovely writing buddy at a conference this month and she said I could join hers but they meet a 40 minute drive away, which seems like a lot once/week. We’ll see. Glad you found your people, though!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks AJ! That is a long drive for once a week. Maybe you could attend a meeting each month? That might be more doable.

      I’d suggest giving it a try. You have nothing to lose–if you don’t like it, you can always leave the group.

      Reply
  21. Samantha Bryant (@mirymom1)

    I’ve been with the same critique group for coming up on eight years now. Our dynamic and membership have shifted during those years, but it’s really working for me. I can’t say that about other groups I’ve tried to be a part of. At times, I couldn’t even say that about the group I’m in! But I’m glad I’ve stuck it out, because I have allies, supporters, and cheerleaders, all of whom are willing to tell me when my BS is showing.

    Writing groups are so idiosyncratic and individual. You are fortunate to have found something that works for you. Hold on with both hands!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Samantha! I’m glad you found your groove as well. That’s awesome! It’s so valuable to feel we’re not alone.

      Reply
  22. Anne

    I have to admit I’ve been put off writing groups for reasons like those you’ve mentioned. That sounds like an awesome, productive way to do it.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Anne. It works for me. Sometimes the best alternative is to start your own group!

      That way, you get what you want.

      Reply
  23. Mary Aalgaard

    I am both a book club and writer’s group drop out. They work for a while, but fizzle out. Book clubs are too much pressure to read their book, and I have such a large stack already. Writer’s groups just haven’t kept alive for me. I have brought together people for a play reading at my house. I’d like to do that more often, for other playwrights, too. Your group sounds terrific.

    Reply
    • JH

      It really is, Mary. I’m lucky. I didn’t really know two of the guys that well before I asked them–it was just a hunch. One I saw at a party (we didn’t even meet, but he seemed funny and nice) and one would occasionally interview me for his TV show. Both of them ended up being fantastic members of the group, and I’m so glad I asked.

      In my experience, playwrights are amazing people. I’m sure a group of playwrights would work very well together. They’re so collaborative in nature. But I do feel the same way about book clubs. I think that would only work for me if the book club read everything that was already in my to-read pile!

      Reply
  24. Sage

    Interesting insight into writing groups. I moved last August and decided I would seek out a writing group and have been attending one but sometimes I feel it is too large (15 to 25 people) so there is little sharing and it is rushed. I have wondered if I should try to find a smaller group.

    I liked the clip about the evil bear that was posted in Chrys’ blog.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much for visiting, Sage. Welcome! You could always start your own group, if you were so inclined. It worked for me. πŸ™‚

      I appreciate the kind words.

      Reply

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