Getting people to read and give feedback on your fiction is an outrageously important aspect of writing, but finding people to read your stories critically is tough. You give your story to your spouse or girlfriend, and they’re automatically biased to liking it AND understanding your point of view, something that most readers won’t be able to do. Friends fall into the same category. While we all have that friend that has no problem telling you that wearing a scarf and a T-shirt in August looks dumb, you need more than one opinion.
That’s why I like writing groups, particularly online ones. Of course there are some bad sides to being in an online group, but for the most part you can deliver criticism from behind the Internet Shield. In most cases I see this as an awful, awful thing – like when people disrespect each other on Facebook arguments and say shit they would NEVER say in person – but in this case I think it’s a good thing. It allows people to give you feedback on your writing in a way that is both brutally honest and (hopefully) useful.
That and it’s a lot easier to find a group online than it is in your local area. I’ve lived in some pretty obscure places, and had I needed to rely on a real-person writing group, I would have been screwed.
That being said, being in a writing group is a skill in and of itself. Most people don’t understand that, but there’s a skill to critiquing work. You can’t treat it like a review – that’s not helpful and you come off like an pretentious idiot – but you also can’t treat it like an English teacher, where you just red pen all the misplaced commas and call it done. That’s not helpful either, and it makes me want to poke you in the eye.
Sometimes, you’ll find a writing group that is full of people who do the above, or, worse, do nothing at all. You give them brilliant, unbelievable critiques, and they read your story and say “hey this is good thanks.”
My point in highlighting this is that being in a BAD writing group is BAD. Being in a GOOD writing group is GOOD. Knowing how to tell the difference is extremely important.
But I’m not part of a writing group. HYPOCRITE?
Well, yeah, probably. Yes. I was in a fantastic writing group for about two years, an online one at farlandswritersgroups.com, a place I still recommend to people who need a trove of authors ready to consume their work and exchange it. My problem became twofold.
First, I wanted to focus on writing novels, and doing novels in a critique group is really hard for a number of reasons. Second, time. At this point in my life, I’m trying to work a day job to keep my family afloat, write novels, expand my voiceover and music business, and still be available to my wife and daughter. I just don’t have time to read other people’s novels and critique them, at least not without sacrificing something that is keeping me sane.
So, can writing groups help your writing and your career? Abso-freaking-lutely. But I think it, like all things, comes with a balance, and the wherewithal to understand when something is helping you and when something is standing in your way.