Friday, November 13, 2009

Day Thirteen: Why Join a Writers' Group?

Writing is generally considered a solitary profession. Armed with a typewriter (yes, some still prefer them) or computer, a stash of snacks, perhaps a favorite knick-knack or two, music, and a steady supply of coffee (or another beverage of choice), tools of the trade (dictionary, thesaurus, books on writing, etc.), the intrepid writer goes into cave mode to become one with the Muse, emerging only to deal with bodily functions and a few hours of sleep. When the writing project is completed, the writer rejoins the human race with a sense of accomplishment, and perhaps a few dark circles under the eyes.

If writing is a journey into isolation for months at a time, then what about writers' groups? What purpose do they serve? Why should you consider joining one? Here are several reasons you might want to become part of such a group.

Because writing is done alone (unless you have a writing partner), joining a writers' group offers an opportunity to socialize with people who will understand what a writer's life is like. Many make lasting friendships in these groups, and get together apart from the group setting. Writers' groups provide the opportunity to network with other writers, from the beginner to those with years of experience. Sometimes groups also include people who are industry professionals and experts in many fields. A group can offer mutual support, and help you through some writing issues such as plot problems, writer's block, or setting up a schedule. They can cheer you on when you succeed, and cheer you up when you don't.

Being part of a group can stimulate your thinking and generate new ideas. It can help you to hone your craft by learning new skills, improving your English, and learning new words and expressions. Many groups provide time during their meetings for both writing and critiquing. In one group I belonged to, we met for an hour. After taking a few minutes to say hello and order snacks and beverages (we met in a small dining room in a restaurant), someone would share a writing prompt, and we would spend the next twenty minutes writing based on that prompt. Then, volunteers would read what they'd written, and the group would critique it. This had several benefits: it gave practice in writing, practice in reading before a group, and practice in how to give and receive constructive criticism. The last ten minutes or so were used for anyone who wanted to, to share a current project. Some groups host guest speakers on various topics related to writing; some host events like readings, book signings, or retreats. The groups are as varied as their members.

Where can you find writing groups? There are professional groups for writers in all genres and genders, as well as freelance writers, and writers of magazine articles, etc. There are regional and local groups that may have monthly or quarterly meetings and sponsor events and retreats. And there are online writers' groups for all ages, levels of expertise, genres, etc. Look in your local newspaper or arts paper for a list of meetings or events. Check the phone book to see if there are writing groups listed there. Do a Google search for online writers' groups. If you want to join a group, there are a bounty from which to choose. Some charge rather hefty membership fees, while other are less expensive or even free. There really is something for everyone. You just need to do a little research to see what will be the best fit for you.

During NaNoWriMo, there are myriad forums on every topic imaginable, and many you probably wouldn't have thought of. Whether you're having plot problems (Plot Doctoring), need some laugh relief (NaNoisms, anyone?), help with character names, settings--anything--you'll find support in the forums. In addition, you can connect with others and become writing buddies. Buddies communicate through email throughout the month for mutual inspiration, celebration, and commiseration. And, for those who feel they need to see real people in real time, there are local and regional "write-ins" at coffee shops, in college libraries, or in homes.

Writing may be a solitary profession, but it needn't be a lonely one. If you seek interaction, all you have to do is look for it.

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