I put this question on Mystery Circus a year or so ago, but since many here are new members, here it is again. Do you belong to a writing group? Have you found it helpful if and when you did?. In the long run, did it help your writing. I belong to two groups-one mostly poets, the other mostly fiction writers. I am somewhat reluctant to show them what is the first novel I've tried because it might derail it completely. It is one thing when this happens with a short story, but now....What do you think? Have you ever tossed something on the advice of a group?

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Sorry I'm so late to this, but this is a particularly timely post.

I quit my writers group yesterday. I didn't do it with any pleasure, I've just run out of time. I can't write, work a ten-hour day, play therapeutic blues a few evenings a week and still give the other writer a thoughtful critique on a 200-page submission. I tried and I can't.

I've been with this group for about 9 years and they've always made my writing better. I hated quitting. I just don't have the time.
I know the feeling. I think I may quit one writing (the mostly poetry one where I have little to offer) and start going to my reading group only every other month. Reading that extra 300 pages book each month, usually something I'm not so keen on reading, is difficult. I find I stay in them because I like the people as much as anything and that's not the best reason.
I just started with a writing group again, but haven't shown them anything at all. I'm beginning to have bad dreams about this. It's like I want to talk writing, to analyze and improve, but since I'm writing two books at once and am not terribly far in either one, I'm not ready to show anything yet.

The difference with this critique group is that we're all published. We sometimes simply knock around ideas. I'm learning so much about good hygiene in writing that I'm hesitant to give up the group . . . but I'm going to have to show them something sometime.

Argh.
I was never hesitant to show them stories. But showing them this first attempt at a novel has me concerned. I could easily lose my confidence because it is... out there. However, I emailed the first two chapters today to discuss next Saturday. Hope it turns out okay.
By writers groups, I'm going to answer that I belong to a local group that has monthly meetings on craft, research, mini-conferences where you can pitch to an editor & agent (annual event) and many other benefits. I was lucky to find them. And one of the bestselling authors of this group actually got me sold, starting off an auction. AND she scored me her agent. It has definitely been worth my time to attend these meetings (and still do) and I was also program director for a number of years--directing the programs the way I wanted them. (devilish grin) But this professional organization is not the same as a critique group.

As part of my learning process as a new author, I started my own critique groups both online and local and they never worked for me. But through this process of trial and error, I've found some individuals that I LOVE to work with and still do. You have to develop a strong sense of your own writing style and not be influenced by those people with opinions that don't make sense to you. It's a gut feeling thang.

The 2-3 people I work with now each give me different feedback (some are pure readers and non-authors) but I never want them to wordsmith my voice. And if they can't focus on the big picture, character motivation, or the plot structure, then I usually quit working with them. Some folks can't get beyond line edits for some reason. And when they can't find things to change, then they start with the wordsmithing just so they have input, I guess. Strange.

I like to nurture a writer and work with their strengths, not rip them to shreds. And I also like to ask open ended questions to make sure they are seeing their characters and the scene from every angle to get the optimal images, dialogue etc. Then let them decide what's best. It's their story.

Bottom line, it's a trial and error process, but you might eventually find the people you're looking for--that make it a give and take exchange. When you are published, you have less need for some of these folks, but I still continue to work with a couple of really strong readers--and I usually listen to them. Usually. (grin)
I have been part of a small group of local writers since 95. Yes, it takes some courage to accept criticism. If you are going to your readers for a boost, forget it. What you want is the truth, or at least a frank reader reaction. I learned a great deal very quickly and sold my first story to AHMM the following year.
Now these same people are my friends. I know their idiosyncrasies, but if they are unanimous in a criticism, I take that seriously and revise. The group meets twice a month, by which time we have read all submissions and are ready to discuss them. The meetings also serve to keep my writing paced because I try to have something ready for them. I am the only mystery writer in the group.
I belong to a critique group and it has helped a great deal. Since writing is my "other job," I can always come up with a reason for putting off the work, but every other Saturday morning I sit across from seven people and two of us are getting our stuff shredded. I'm either reading, critiquing, or submitting and that keeps me on my toes, and gives me support.
Way back when, I joined a writing group of five members. We met once a week and read ten pages aloud, then were offered an oral critique. I don't currently belong to one, but I am glad I did then.

Some caveats. Keep the group small. Offer membership on a trial basis. Yes, you may come as a guest, bring some of your work for a couple weeks, and we'll see if we'll take you on. That way, if you get someone whose personality doesn't mesh, or work isn't up to standards, you can cut them loose. (One bad apple can spoil the group.) Stick to the rules. More importantly, have rules. If they aren't followed, take action and dismiss the member if necessary.

Our ten page a week quota was both good and bad. When I got the call that an editor wanted to read that book, it occurred to me that no one had ever sat and read it straight through. Something that works ten pages at a time might not work in one or two sittings as I found out in my book. (I fixed them, and that first completed book with the crit group sold, as opposed to the one I'd written on my own prior to that.)

Be careful with well-intended advice. Write down what is said, but go home and think about it, and go on your instincts. If two or more say the same thing, time to sit up and take notice--which doesn't mean you should change it, just think harder about it. You can end up with mud if you make every single change offered.

Looking back, I have a feeling that my original crit group involvement is why I tend to pace my books as I do. I wanted to keep their interest in those ten pages. I wanted to make sure that when I finished, they were anxious to hear what happened next.

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