Writing Groups: Not for All Writers All of the Time

One of the first pieces advice I received as a young writer (about eight or nine years ago now) from multiple sources (mostly from writing books and sage advice from published authors) was that to be successful at writing one must join a writing group. I was told writing groups would make me a better writer by giving me a place to talk and learn about writing as well as put me around other like-minded individuals for the support I needed to keep writing.

I took that advice to heart and joined a writers group two years after I began my cool hobby of writing, because I wanted to take my cool hobby to the next level.

It was the best decision of my life.

Until that defining moment of joining my first writing group, writing was a fancy. Something I did in my spare time. I had big ideas of being published, but it was a pie in the sky kind of thing. Joining a writing group made me realize that writing isn’t as romantic as I first thought. It’s lot of hard work (and a building of strict discipline and great effort), but work that had a hell of a pay off in the end (and I’m not talking about being published).

Through the help of my new writing friends, I learned that writing was not just something to do or some passing fancy for me, it was a way of life… my new way of life. And for two years, I went to every single writing meeting religiously (every other Saturday afternoon). And no sickness or excuse would keep me from going (okay, so if I was running a fever I wouldn’t go, but you get the idea).

Then I started getting restless. Something was wrong, very wrong and I didn’t know what it was. The meetings weren’t as fulfilling anymore and more times than not I would come home from a meeting totally frustrated, wondering why I’d wasted hours talking about writing and other things that had nothing to do with writing (because my writing group did love to get off topic a lot).

I even tried to take more responsibility and became a co-organizer, thinking I just wasn’t challenged enough. The last straw was when I decided to convince members of my group to put together an anthology. I should have seen it for what it was. A last desperate attempt to fit into something that just wasn’t working anymore. After a year (this was my third and final year in the group) of collaborating with my fellow writers on the anthology project, I finally realized my mistake. I was pushing writers who just weren’t ready for that sort of commitment. I wanted them to be writing instead of talking about writing.

It took me awhile to figure it out, but it was I that should be writing more instead of talking about writing. It wasn’t my job to push others to do more. I was only responsible for myself and my writing, so with a heavy heart I slowly drifted away from a group of people I once considered my family. And I did this because I knew I could only be the writer I was meant to be when I allowed myself the time and space to do so. It cost me some friendships, and others I chat with on Facebook every once in awhile. But now I know that cutting the cord was the right thing to do, even though it was extremely painful.

Sure, I still had a lot to learn, but that’s what self-help books, writing workshops, and lots and lots of actually sitting down and writing come into play. Even my need to be socially active with other writers diminished, because I realized that every moment I spent being friendly and chatty, I was taking away from my true passion.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to be social and because of the contacts I made in my writing group and later at writing conventions and workshops, I have quite a few writing friends that are a big part of my life. But I no loner needed every other Saturday afternoon to fraternize with them. A lot of my communication changed to emails and Facebook messages and occasional meet-ups that sometimes had nothing to do with writing at all. But we still had that connection of being lovers of writing that bounded us together.

As I began to put more space between myself and my writing group, I started my own online critique group. This group a little more on task with a specific goal… giving and getting critiques on current works in progress. We read stories from other members and once a month met on Google Hangouts to do roundtable critiques of each story. And it was great. We all received great feedback on our stories as well as forging supportive writing relationships.

But after awhile, I got the feeling that something wasn’t quite right once more. The meetings became more draining than they have should been and I had difficulty just finding the time to read the stories being critiqued each month. My heart just wasn’t into planning and organizing meetings anymore. So after two years, I finally disbanded the group.

After that, I looked for other local writing groups to join, figuring maybe I needed to go back to meeting people face to face. I was convinced that I needed to be back in a writing group and it was unacceptable that I was not. There was an emptiness that needed to be filled.

I found a group that looked promising. I joined and even seriously considered going to some of the meetings. But never did. At the last minute I always came up with an excuse not to go. For awhile I thought there was something wrong with me. And it bothered me I wasn’t making more of an effort to be in a writing group. I started asking myself… Why was being (or not being) in a writing group such a hangup for me?

It was then that I realized it all came back to the advice I’d first heard as a young writer… to be successful at writing, you must be part of writing a group.

In my stubbornness to follow this “rule”, I created a void I thought needed to be filled by being around other writers, and only writers. It hasn’t been until recently that I realized this isn’t true (and, in fact, I use book clubs now to fill that social void).

Writing groups are not for all writers all the time.

Just like life, the writing process goes through changes. Writing is a journey of ups and downs. Change is inevitable and necessary for growth. What may work one minute, may not work another. And I have met some writers who’ve never been apart of a writing group and have no intentions of doing so, and that seems to work just fine for them.

Right now, writing groups just don’t seem to be what I need.

That’s not to say I will never be apart of a writing group again, or stop being social with my writing friends. Sure I may have backed off a bit and not been nearly as “social” as I used to be, but I still make contact once in awhile just to make sure we are all alive and well, and I am genuinely curious as to how my fellow writers have been fairing in their lives as well as their writing journeys.

And in my own personal writing journey, I have learned to say… It’s okay not to be in a writing group. I can be a successful writer without a writing group, and in fact, have been my most productive when not apart of a writing group. That’s because I have refocused all the time and energy I would otherwise put toward attending or planning meetings into my own writing. And I have to say, I’m a much happier writer because of it.

How about you? Are writing groups for you? Or do you prefer flying solo?

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