Saturday, 10 February 2018

Good and bad writers' groups

I've been a member of a few writers' groups over the years, and whether a writers' group is any good  very much depends on the calibre of the said groups. Some are certainly better than others.

I was in a group that was all about hero-worship of the one published writer that commanded the throne of the writers' society. It was "my way, or the highway". I stuck around in that group for too long, and probably set my writing progress back a few years as a result.

Another writers' group with a hero-worship factor had a particularly well-off "hero" that was worshipped but was far from worthy of being published; the highly egotistical "hero" with a fragile temperament financed the group and thus there was an unwritten rule of no negative criticism of the hero, the narcissistic hero was only to be lavished with unending praise, even though the hero's work was some of the most pathetic shite I had ever heard. The one time I made a suggestion to the financier about changing a single word to improve a rhyme, I was treated like dirt for the next few meetings, because I had dared to question the hero (and thus threatened the financial future of the group). That one wasn't for me, and quite simply the group could go do one.

I was also a member of some that seemed to consist of some people trying to destroy the hopes of up and coming writers, sniping at them like opportunistic sharks whenever a writer tried anything different to what the clique ordained should be written. For example, after reading a vampire story at one such group, it was instantly dismissed snootily with the words: "Well, that'll never sell to Woman's Weekly or People's Friend." I should hope not, as I was not aiming for those markets.... Another person wrote a story intended for a horror fiction market. When the writer had read it out, other prominent members spent absolutely ages ripping it apart simply for the choice of genre. Certain embedded members had nothing positive to contribute there, as the story was mercilessly destroyed for the wrong reasons without any constructive feedback. "I don't believe in ghosts, so you shouldn't write a ghost story and neither should anyone else!"

Fortunately I have been in writers' groups that were amazing and supportive and above all helpful. Criticism was abound, but all of it purely constructive to help you progress. Some people were successful authors with nice contracts with publishers, and others not, but everyone was equal and friends. Unfortunately I moved away, but I am still in touch with a couple of members of the group, The group sadly died out naturally a few years later as people went about their lives.

So writers' groups can be good, and they can also be bad. When joining, it is important to get the feel of the dynamic of the group, to see what it's like. Are people friendly or egotistical? Does one person dominate the group? Is feedback actually of any use to a writer?

Good luck in finding a writers' group of your own.