Finding and joining a local writer support group that critiques each member’s work can accelerate a writer’s learning evolution. Each writer has a different skill set and, like your readers, each has differing views and interpretations of your work. A good group will give you a wide range of useful opinions about your writing style and will offer advice for improvement.
The Type of Group You Want to Join
Start by looking for a group with experienced writers. Not all members need to be published authors, but the majority of members should have several years of serious writing under their belts. I prefer a group that quite literally shreds my work by pointing out the slightest typos and weak techniques. This is the only way to learn how to become a better and more effective writer. Groups that merely judge the story itself will not help you to become a better writer. A lot of good storytellers are poor writers. Most of us start out that way. But poor writers do not sell very many books.
Find a group intent on dissecting and slaughtering your work, but does so in a constructive manner. The tougher the group, the more you will learn. The criticism should never get emotional or personal. The fact is most writers get too attached to their work and cannot easily see when and where it is weak or ineffective. A meeting where everyone praises the writing of all the members is probably the wrong group for turning you into a better writer. New prospective members have shown up expecting us to praise whatever they wrote. Some never returned after the first round of critiques. If you want someone who loves everything you write, stay home and read to your dog.
The Ideal Structure for a Writing Group
Each writing group sometimes has a different structure and rules. Most require you to bring enough printed copies to pass out to the group. The group then reads it and critiques the writing at the meeting. Some groups want you to read your work to the group, and the group then critiques what you wrote. For many years, this is the type of group structure that I found to be prevalent. It’s also a very weak method for generating good critiques.
A better method is to limit the size of a submission and require each member to email a copy of their writing to each group member at least three days prior to a meeting. That gives members enough time to review a document in detail and provide a thorough critique. A liberal use of red pens and proofreading markup should be encouraged.
Beware of the Size of the Group
Over the years I’ve belonged to groups that had anywhere from 5 to 35 members. In my humble opinion, the smaller the group of experienced writers, the more you will learn, and the more cohesive the group will be. A group of 25 or 30 members cannot effectively critique each other’s work. There just simply isn’t enough time to adequately focus on each manuscript. It takes at least two or three minutes to deliver a good critique, and far longer to read the work prior to this. Multiply that times 25 members and it becomes a full time job. I have never found large critique groups to be effective.
The group I’m currently involved with limits membership to eight writers. If a member drops out, another is allowed in. We meet once per week for two hours for a round robin critique of each submitted manuscript. A manuscript is limited to ten pages using a Times Roman font at 12 points. The manuscripts are sent out via email at least three days in advance, so there is adequate time to print, read and mark up each manuscript with corrections, notes and advice. This group includes members from a diverse range of backgrounds and writing experience, which tends to work very well. Look for a group with six to ten members.
So, how do you find a good group? The obvious choice is to search the web or talk to other writers. When I search for “Phoenix writers”, dozens of local writing groups and clubs show up in search results. A good resource that I found is Meetup.com (scroll down the page). You can find a number of writer groups in most large USA cities, or you can start one of your own. Many groups allow new members to join online through this website.