Some Thoughts About Writing Groups…
I’ve been thinking a little bit about writing groups. The good and the bad. When does it make sense to engage with a writing group, and when does it make sense to withdraw from one and fly solo for a spell (or, find another group)?
I don’t think I can offer any one-size-fits-all answer. So much depends on context: are you at the beginning of your career, or farther along? Do your personalities mesh with others in the group, or not? Is this an online group or an in-person group? Are there critique obligations (or other obligations) required for your continued membership? How well do these responsibilities fit into your schedule? Are the members of the group predominately hobbyists or aspiring pros? Are you a hobbyist or an aspiring pro?
Throughout my career, I’ve been involved with two face-to-face writing groups and two online writing groups. Currently, I’m only involved in one writing group (of the online variety). I mention this just to emphasize that I know of what I speak. My opinions are based on my cumulative experience with all four groups, and shouldn’t be taken as a judgement on any one, particular group I’ve been involved with.
So, yeah…here’s my two cents. From my experience, writing groups are most energizing (and helpful) when they broaden your frame of reference. If they introduce you to new concepts in craft, new markets, new peers, new information about the business angle to things, etc. then the group is dynamic and effective. However, it’s possible that the same group that, at one point, broadened your frame of reference no longer broadens it. This often happens naturally, over the space of a few years, as your abilities develop. Sometimes, a group can even (quite inadvertently) restrict your frame of reference. This can happen when group members are focused on one narrow definition of professional success and a sort of groupthink develops, or when a hierarchy emerges in groups. In these cases, it’s only human nature to conform to the agreed-upon definition of success and strive to achieve it (or, in sociological terms, to seek a higher place in the group’s pecking order).
These are silly reindeer games. (Well, mostly silly. Sometimes they can be downright toxic).
They distract you from the relentless pursuit of success. They devalue the unique aspects of your career path. If you find yourself mired in such dynamics, then you may want to consider the benefits of politely withdrawing from the group . (I want to emphasize politely because, hey, you’ve established friendships, right? Friendships and career connections. You’re not burning bridges. You’re not dissolving friendships. You’re just stepping away from the reindeer games).
You’re doing what you have to do to relentlessly pursue success. Success, as defined by you. Because when you’re on your death bed hooked to oxygen, you aren’t going to worry about whether your career path met with the approval of (insert name of Local Top Dog Writer). You’re going to worry about whether you, in the marrow of your bones, can say you ran a good race.
But hey, I could always be wrong. Got a thought or two on this topic? Feel free to post it in the comments section.