I belong to 3 writers groups and I wish I had thought to join one 15 years ago. Two of the three groups are online and have some membership requirements, like completing a workshop or having at least one professional story sale. But I am also a member of the Arlington Writers Group which meets in person weekly in Arlington, Virginia and it is a particularly good group of writers to be associated with.
For me, the value of a writers group is threefold:
- It provides you with a kind of expert audience to test out whatever it is you produce, in my case, short fiction. I say “expert” because, in the case of the groups I belong to, the other writers involved know how to provide useful comments and criticism. In many cases, they are published writers or editors who have been there, done that, and have a lot of experience and wisdom to offer.
- It teaches you how to look critically at a piece of writing, be it a work of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, personal essay, whatever. I often find it difficult to look critically at my own work, but my participation in these writers group have helped me improve on this.
- It provides an environment of people who drink the same Kool-Aid as you do, a place where you can talk shop without driving your significant other insane, and of course, this kind of bonding with other writers helps you build your network of connections.
I enjoy the Arlington Writers Group in particular because they meet weekly for two hours and the core people in the group are excellent critics. There are often strong differences of opinions about a given piece, but that is true with any published piece of fiction and it helps a writer to focus on what is most important to them. Another good thing about the group is that they don’t focus on any one specific genre of writing. There are science fiction writers, mystery writers, fantasy novelists, essayists, poets, news editors, playwrights, screenplay writers. It allows for exposure for someone like me–a science fiction writer–to the wide world of writing outside my genre. Lastly, there are many different levels of experience within our diverse group. There are people in the group who make their living from writing. There are people in the group who are just attempting to write their first piece of fiction. And of course, a range of skill levels in between. This makes for a setting in which you can learn a lot, no matter what your experience level.
If I could give one piece of advice to new writers (or to myself, 17 year ago), it would be: join a writers group.
And if you happen to live in the Northern Virginia area, check out the Arlington Writers Group. They are a good bunch.