Why are Writing Groups Crap?

by Louise Wise

You get all sorts in writing groups, the Ain’t I Brilliant writers who read aloud from pretentious manuscripts as the other Ain’t I Brilliant writers nod thoughtfully while waiting their turn to be pretentious. These aren’t brilliant at all, they just think they are. People like this will belittle anyone who threatens their Ain’t I Brilliant group, and are recongisable by their scruffy business suits, complete with sweat-marks.

Then you have the There for the Coffee Only writers who are mainly women (I’m allowed to be sexist because I’m a woman!), and whose children are probably stinking of poo in a pushchair somewhere in the corner of the room. These read aloud their work only to be interrupted by someone saying, “Oh, our Rosie Petal managed to stay dry all night.” Or. “I like your shoes. Where’d you buy them?”

Can’t forget the Retired Gentleman. He’s always in a group and ready to dismiss anyone under 30 as having no life experience and couldn’t possibly have anything worth writing about. He’ll read his work out so sllllooooowly, and insist to the person taking the minutes that he only has “two sentences left” but then takes up another five minutes reading his work. Oh, and it’ll always be about the war.

Students: Ugh! The cocky, “I’ve a degree and better than you” twenty-somethings who’re quick to point out the holes in your plot using humongous words. These are Ain’t I Brilliant in the making!

They sit thumbing their mobiles, looking petulant and bored until it’s their turn to speak. 

The Minute Taker is needed to stop people taking up someone else’s reading time, but these are usually so fierce I’m sure their day job is a bouncer outside some vomit-encrusted-nightclub. 

You’ve finally plucked up courage to read and when you do she or he is standing with a stop watch yelling, “five minutes to go, four minutes and 58 seconds, four minutes and 57 seconds,” and so on.

They scare the heebie-jeebies out me!

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=wiswor0a-21&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=1936037033&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrEveryone’s had someone in their group like the people described above. Patti Hultstrand, author of Time Conquers All, Rescue in Time and Battle for Time has met all of the above at her writing group, and shares some words of wisdom:

As an author, we learn more with each completed book under our belts. Each book gets easier to write and edit because you learn the lessons from the previous works. Unfortunately, with this gradual learning, we find that we need a writing group that is closer to equal, if not even more knowledgeable than we are, or else we no longer grow or learn from others. I am reminded that one best selling author once mentioned this when talking about her current success with her writing group. She only worked in a writing group that included published authors. They were closer to equals and had already experienced the wounds of severe editing.

There is also this additional problem when dealing with newbie writers and that is, they have not built up a tougher skin in regards to critiquing their work. When I try out a new group, I do not hit them with all the corrections and suggestions I could make, but I find myself toning down their critique. Unfortunately, it is usually the group leader who takes a dislike to me because I dared critique them at all, when all the others in the group held them up on some pedestal.

These experiences have left me without a writing group home. This made me wonder if I should start a new group for mid-list authors who want to deal with like-minded writers who want to boost their skills by working their books, not just catering to each other’s egos. This does not allow for growth as a potentially successful author.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=wiswor0a-21&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=1861441037&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrJennifer Thomson author of Bullying: A Parent’s Guide and Caring for Your Dog had a mixure of Minute Taker and There for the Coffee writers. She says: The one and only writers group I ever went to, had this man in it. He cycled there and had a pair of shorts on and every time he leant forward we could see everything! Another member of the group had chronic fatigue syndrome and when she missed the next meeting the woman who’s house the group was in, accused her of being lazy. I stopped going after that.

Col Bury says: I prefer to use an online writers group. I’ve not looked back since I joined Writers News Talkback forum.

Ann Swinfen met the Retired Gentleman group: I joined a writers’ group at a time when I’d published one academic book and lots of journalism, but no fiction. At my third session we were all asked if we had any news . . . it went round the circle . . . one person had a small item in the (very) local weekly newspaper. Loud applause . . .when it came to me I said I’d just signed a two-book contract with Random House. Total silence. Evil looks. At the coffee break the only published writer (crime, with Hodder) came over and said how pleased he was. He’s remained a good friend. I stuck with the group for a year but found it of little use. A few years later I was asked to give them a talk. The attitude was a bit different!

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=wiswor0a-21&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=1849233268&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrhttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=wiswor0a-21&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=1849235082&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrPrue Batten agrees: I have to say, I find writers groups full of puffed up people who frighten me. Rather like those who presume to lecture at Adult Ed. Think I’d rather stick with peer-review groups or pay money to an editorial agency for no-holds barred comments.

Who have you met at your writing group? Some of the above or different ones? Maybe you’re lucky and have the perfect group. Please share, we’re jealous.

25 thoughts on “Why are Writing Groups Crap?

  1. I'm lucky enough to have two good local writer's circle. The first is very social and supportive, we meet at a bar & grill downtown, and occasionally do writing prompts as well as share our work.

    The other is more serious, constructively critical, with a rule about the writer not jumping in to defend their work while the other members speak their piece.

    That's great – congratulations on this little bit of your dream!

    I'm starting up a 'Critiquing and Supportive Crusaders' program, where participants in the Second Crusade can find other writers to exchange critiques with or form supportive critiquing circles. If you're interested, come by The Kelworth Files to check it out!


  2. So funny! I've also seen writing groups with the types of characters you've mentioned. Even in my MFA program, I saw some of those personalities. But for those people who can find even one fellow writer who they mesh with–never let that person go! It is so rare and valuable.

    Thanks for sharing. =)


  3. Yes, I bet that was hard Shawn, being the only female within your genre. Gosh, disillusioned ex writing group members are really coming out of the woodwork!

    I did think I'd be getting more comments in support of groups.


  4. Those character descriptions were right one, and the reason I left my writing group.

    One thing that wasn't mentioned is being the only female fantasy writer in a group of romance & chicklit writers who gush over the Mr. Darcy type.


  5. Don't let us put you off, Kari, as Jack said it does take visiting a few before you settle for one you like. I'm happy with my on-line circle, at least I haven't got to find a babysitter before I attend it!

    There has been a lot of in
    interesting comments. Thanks you everyone, I've enjoyed reading!


  6. I haven't found one yet, but I've been hesitating for all of the reasons you listed. I'm not shy about getting my MS ripped up, I know I need to hear it, so I wouldn't want anyone to “tone it down” for me.


  7. thanks for this brillaint post, Louise. Now I know why I've never joined a real life writers' group – I thought it would be full of AIBs or RG, with some TFTCO.
    I'd rather stick to my online groups at CHapter79, and of course Talkback 🙂


  8. I think that writing groups are sort of a mixed lot. It takes time to find one that provides benefits for you. Really depends on what you/need/want I suppose.


  9. I am a big fan of YWO, they aren't for the faint-hearted though, are they? I tried Authonomy but didn't understand the way they worked. My book was “backed” and declared wonderful if I said the same about them? Nah, not for me.


  10. The very first writing group I went to was the best. We had a “leader” and he was fantastic, we disbanded and met up in privately in one lady's house. But then he go too cocky and decided to charge us.
    Since then I've never found a writing group I liked.
    I tried making my own and hired the local community centre but nobody wanted to pay towards the costs. 😦


  11. I was in a writer's group for just a year before I finally left it. The people weren't pretentious in it, but none that stuck around were of any help whatsoever. The meetings became more and more pointless; either only a few members would actually read the stories we had submitted for critique, or I would get back a blank copy of my story with no feedback on it at all. I decided it was just fueling my anger and resentment, so I left and have been hoping to find the type of like-minded writers who are at my level of critiquing expectations. Writer's groups can be great, but they can also be damaging if you're stuck in a poor one.


  12. Great post. I've had similar issues with my groups. I have one local in-person group that's so on and off again it's hardly worth the emotional investment — the thing of it is it was supposed to be for “professional” minded writers (even if unpubbed, so long as that was their goal), but the organizer's conduct has been anything but professional… I've had better luck with CPs I've found online. Le sigh.


  13. The only writer's grouping I've done to date that wasn't online was for the NaNoWriMo. It was interesting meeting different writers, some of which had even been published.

    So I guess it depends, really. As I understand it, not all writing groups even have the same goals.


  14. You've captured exactly why I'm not a member of a writing group! Not because I'm worried about sharing my work, or receiving criticism – it's just the people. What if the leader is the person I most dislike? And other such thoughts. Enjoyed reading this very much – thank you.


  15. I have the perfect writing group!! That's all thanks to Annie the awesome who was tired of going to the type of groups you described and decided to start her own. We are all good friends (and they at least are fantastic writers) who are there to support each other through the ups and downs of writing. I am grateful everyday to have made awesome friends who are also awesome writers.


  16. I do belong to a real world writing group – luckily we're free of the nasty people you mention, but I've come across some of them in the past.

    My 'problem' is that the people in my group don't write the same stuff I do, nor are they at the same stage in their writing career. Because of that, I use a couple of on-line groups.


  17. My group is pretty mixed. We've had a little of everyone through the years. I liekmeetng new writers adn I honestly do enjoy guiding newbies…even if I do have to hold back a bit in the beginning. I remember what it was like to be them and so clueless…no direction…but I'd had stories I wanted to share.

    But there are 8 of us who broke away and meet privately. Most of us are published in one way or another…we're the most serious about our work, and that's where I get the best critique from people who's opinions I respect.


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