When I met Lisa Scottoline, I asked her what she thought about writing groups. She said she was against them during the initial writing of a piece because, at that point in the process, hearing negativity would hurt the creative process. I have read that Chuck Palahniuk uses a writing group for feedback at the beginning of projects. I had tried a couple of writing groups in the past, and neither had worked out for me. In the first one, I felt that I was providing some helpful hints, but was not getting anything useful in return. The second group just had so many dropouts that it disbanded. I went to one at a local community college last week, and found the remarks technically useful concerning a first chapter of a novel I had written. I was just wondering about the experiences of other writers with writing groups.

Gus Cileone
A Lesson in Murder

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Hello, Chuck, old friend. Nice to meet you here. Glad to hear all is well with your group.
Hey now, Ingrid. ... Maybe this should go off list, but I hope you're well. How go the historical mysteries?


PS: It looks like MWF is making something of a comeback. Comparatively.
Things are plodding along. And we've got a number of people from MWF here. Well, there's Daniel Hatadi, of course. :)
After years of reluctance I finally joined my first critiquing group last September. We've been meeting approx every 6 weeks since, so I can now finally formulate an opinion on this subject.

I must confess that my experience is in line with Lisa's. My reluctance was always that offering up bits of a work in progess for critical review would hinder rather than help the creative process. During the first few meetings I did not realise it, but the other more experienced writers in my group were focusing strictly on works they had previously completed. I, being the green member, foolishly offered up my newest chapters of my current project.

Needless to say, my creative enthusiasm ground to a halt for the first time in years.

So now that I've learned my lesson, I'll try this again next season. However, this time I'll be a little wiser. I'll keep my fledgling ms safely under wraps till the first draft is complete, and offer up only difficult bits of my completed work for review.

BTW -- I have managed to gather some valuable insights from my fellow members, so the experience has been worthwhile, despite its negative impact on my productivity. Now that I'm back in the saddle, I do find myself recalling hints that are improving the work in progress.
Donna Carrick
Zoetrope's 'virtual studio' is the best writing group i've come across. Most of the stories from my first book were previewed there and the feedback was always brutally honest and very helpful.
I'm a fan of writing groups, or at least the one I'm a part of. It's a small group all working in different genres. This tends to be a blessing--they pick up on things that I wouldn't otherwise notice. When they give advice that obviously runs against genre conventions, I just smile and nod. Plus it's great to read and provide feedback on other people's work.

Being part of a group also keeps me motivated to submit my work and develop as a professional. Getting together with a group on a regular basis makes writing a less lonely pursuit.
I found writing groups very useful when I was completing my first two novels. One was an online group organized by Sisters in Crime. We critiqued a chapter at a time, using the editing program available in Word, and the feedback was invaluable. The group also helped me maintain my momentum in that it gave me regular deadlines to meet. Same was true for an in-person group of mystery writers in Saratoga Springs. We met once a month, distributing hard copies a chapter at a time and editing the old-fashioned way, by hand.

In both groups, we consciously focused on the positive so as not to discourage people, and folks were basically kind and supportive. I've heard that's not always the case, though, so you need to be careful and follow your gut feelings about any group.

Nowadays I wouldn't belong to a group - I feel I've gotten what I could from them and it's time to go it alone. And groups can be very time-consuming - you're right, you sometimes give more than you get, especially when there are novices who don't even know the basics.

Julie Lomoe
Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders
I'm currently doing a masters in creative writing at a local university.

As part of the course we have a writers' group and we also have an informal writers' group that meets up in a pub.

I found the taught writing group quite useful with some limitations. As I was older then most of the others in the group, (I'm retired, most were just from getting their first degree from college/university). As such they were not confident in being constructive with their criticism.

The tutor, an established author, twice shortlisted for the Mann-Booker prize, was on the whole quite good. He challenged my writing style - I was in places being too derivative and it gave me a lot to think about in characterisation and structure.

I had one session where he laid into to my work tearing it apart paragraph by paragraph. A lot of the attack was in my opinion wrong. It knocked my confidence quite badly. Thinking it through I now feel he was trying to get me to write in his style and longer term I know that style will not work for me and it has strengthened my resolve to go my own way.

The informal reading group was quite good, except for the fact that the guy who set it up had an ego problem. I've since moved on and have a drink with a few of the group, which is quite helpful.

I've also turned excerpts from my writing into five minute stories and read them to my local Toastmasters group. (A public speaking organisation) There I got a lot of useful comments from the members.

I'm slowly evolving an informal group of people to be my own creative writing group, we have some nice riverside pubs nearby, which is helpful, as we are very supportive, but have the confidence to be frank with each other.

So the answer is yes - you need a writing group. However, be careful, not all criticism will be valid.
I read once that Dean Koontz was totally against them because it's a clique atmosphere. Even though he hasn't written a good book since Mr. Murder, I'm afraid I'm gonna have to agree with him.


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