Pat Iyer's Blog

3 women in a writers' group at a tableThe most successful writers of fiction, memoir, and narrative nonfiction know that they can’t go down the writing road alone. When they do the actual writing, quiet and solitude are essential, but for the evaluation stage, their work needs fresh eyes and minds supplied by a writers’ group.

When I say most successful, I don’t necessarily mean New York Times best-selling authors, although if you read their acknowledgments pages, you’ll find that many of them thank the members of their writers’ groups. I also mean the writers who keep on writing, despite setbacks and failures. Success means staying in the game.

A writers’ group can help you meet your goals. When you know that you’ve agreed to submit a piece for group critique, you feel accountable to keep your promise.

Fellow writers can give you invaluable feedback. They may pick up on details that you missed, like that the heroine had blue eyes in Chapter 2, and in Chapter 3 has brown eyes. (Many readers will also notice this and will, rightly or wrongly, judge you for it.)

I read one book in which the heroine was white, and later in the book she changed race to black. Odd.

In another book, the author gave the main character’s youngest daughter 2 different first names.

Having a skilled editor go through your manuscript is a great way to catch these errors.

You can go to your writers’ groups and present a plot problem that’s stopping you. Because the members don’t have the investment in the story that you do, they can often come up with ingenious solutions.

You can also learn a lot from how other people write. Maybe you’ll see an approach you can use. At a minimum, you’ll be impressed by the variety of ways that people write.

Maybe most important, over time, your writers’ group will become a mutual support group. They will encourage you through the rough spots of writing, which every writer experiences.

Are You Ready to Join a Writers’ Group?

You are if:

  • You have the time to participate in a group. This includes reading the work of others. Before asking to join a group, you do need to know what’s involved: how many members, what length work do they submit? Are they asking for story critiques or line editing? If every writer is submitting 2500-word chapters per week, you may reasonably feel that this is more than you can handle.
  • However, if your logical brain tells you that the reading load is manageable, make the time. Make the commitment and keep it.

  • You’re already writing. Being in a writing group alone is not going to give you the fuel and drive to start writing. That has to come from you.
  • You already have material you can share. Again, a group can’t push you past the finish line. You don’t have to have a completed piece of work. It can be a first draft, but it needs to be something.
  • You write consistently. Ideally, this means every day, but if you have a full-time day job and are a weekend writer, that’s fine, as long as you write consistently then.
  • You’re willing to give time and attention to the work of other writers. Writers’ groups are based on give-and-take. Takers will be invited to exit.
  • You’re willing to have your work critiqued, and you can handle it. This is crucial. I have a vivid recollection of a woman who indignantly objected to the critique I gave her report. She was highly offended. “No one ever gave me this kind of feedback before,” she told me. “I will never work with you again”, she told me. And that was fine, because I needed coachable people working for me.

People are going to find things that don’t work in your writing. They’re going to tell you that. You need to not interpret critiques as character assassination. You must not vow that you will never write another word.

You may find this to be the most difficult aspect of participating in a writer’s group. It’s also the aspect that will give you the most growth, both as a writer and as a human being.

If you are not part of a group and want the help of an experienced writer and editor, use the contact form on patiyer.com and let’s set up a time to chat.