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TMI: Finding the Right Writer’s Group

By Caren Stewart

When it comes to writing a personal essay, it’s important to sift through all of your information to determine what might make for good material. Sometimes what seems interesting to you may not be very interesting to someone else. On the flip side, it’s also very important to write tastefully, which means not giving away Too Much Information. One of the many reasons it’s good to belong to a writer’s group.

But where do you go to find a writer’s group you may ask? It all depends on your ability to throw caution to the wind. For instance, if your opinion is that the entire world is a stage and you’re standing in the mosh pit, you might want to go online and join a group. At least when you’re working online you’ve got the anonymity factor working for you, and the members of the group can’t actually see your face, and therefore won’t know who they’re laughing at. If this is the way for you to go, you might want to try someplace like the writerscafe.org, forwriters.com, or writing.com. I would also like to insert a plug here for NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month.

Now granted, NaNoWriMo does not take place until November, but it’s never too early to get yourself set up with an account on nanowrimo.org. The challenge is to write 50,000 words during the month of November. (For some ideas, check out the GWA’s NaNoWriMo Pinterest Board.) It’s a personal challenge, but if you succeed, you will be eligible to receive discounts on several different writing resources. You will also have a place to post information about your work, and have the ability to join a writing group in your local area.

However if you’re feeling really brave, you might decide to just find your own local group to join. In the area where I live, I’ve seen groups advertise in the newspaper, at the library, and at the local bookstore. You can also find groups through a larger entity germane to your genre like the Society of Children‘s Book Writers. Goodreads is another great place to start especially if you are looking for a Beta Reader. A Beta Reader sounds so mysterious, but it’s really just someone who has nothing better to do, and absolutely nothing to gain, by reading your work and giving you a bit of feedback on it.

But if I can just insert a few words of advice here: please don’t take it personally when it comes time to critique your work. I promise, they’re laughing with you, not at you. And if they are laughing at you, it’s simply time to find another writer’s group. Don’t be afraid to shop around until you find one you like.

And if you can’t find one you like, form your own. Often times it begins with two people–that is until the universe catches wind of your plans, and before you know it, everyone from your dentist to your neighbor wants to get in on the action. If that’s the case, the Writing Center at UNC has a great website (writingcenter.unc.edu) where you can find handy printouts, like the writing group starter kit and something very helpful called, “Reacting to Other People’s Responses to Your Writing”–this leads me to my final point.

It takes time to build a thick skin about your work, it’s a part of you, and you’re going to feel vulnerable, but that’s a part of your growth as a writer. You’ll find that even when you think you’re writing fiction about a tall man (you’re a short woman), who’s involved in a science fiction plot to take over the world (you’re a stay at home mom), there is always going to be some truth in what you are writing. This is the therapy part of writing. It’s a good tool to help you do some problem solving in your own life.

So it’s also understandable that when someone says, “What about inserting a comma here?” you will want to reply with, “How about I insert a comma where the sun don’t shine, Sister!” But resist this urge. It will not improve your relationships with the group. And sometimes, Sister, a comma is just a comma.

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