ON WRITING

“It’s very easy to quit during the first ten years of writing. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.” Andre Dubus

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Thursday, 12 September 2013

TOP TEN TIPS ON STARTING AND SUSTAINING AN ONLINE WRITER'S GROUP

Hi there!

I have sometimes commented in passing about the face-to-face Writing Group I attend, but I've thought more and more about an online writing group as well, where the focus would be firmly on critiquing each other's manuscripts. At times my Writing Group isn't much more than a social occasion. I've joined a couple of online groups, but I've been mulling over starting my own online writing group, doing my research, and this is what I've learned so far. I thought I'd share with you, as perhaps you'd like to be part of a personalised online writing group.

TEN TIPS ON STARTING AND SUSTAINING AN ONLINE WRITING GROUP

  1. A GROUP NEEDS A LEADER. This can be problematic in a face-to-face writing group, as sometimes who is actually the leader is unclear. But like any other organisation, if no one is in charge the group will eventually dissolve. Once a group is up and running, there shouldn't be much work for the leader to do, but the leader needs to:  keep the current list of email addresses, pass out the group's guidelines to new members, help resolve conflicts when/if they arise. The leader should be the chief motivator by setting group goals such as challenging members to enter contests or use writing prompts as they become available. Seeing projects through to completion would be another job for the leader.
  2. A GOOD WRITING GROUP KEEPS IT SIMPLE. Guidelines should be straightforward and easy to remember. Rules shouldn't be so involved that members spend more time critiquing than working on their own writing projects.
  3. A GOOD WRITING GROUP STAYS FLEXIBLE. Allow the rules to change and evolve as the group develops. Don't make rules such as 'members must submit a ms once a month'. Find out what members feel is reasonable and come to an agreement.
  4. A GOOD WRITING GROUP AVOIDS THE RED PENCIL SYNDROME. Members should be encouraged to focus on big picture critiquing -- plot, character, setting, pace, page-turning-quality etc -- rather than typos or spelling and grammar errors. A good writer will eventually correct those. (However, if technical English is a problem and a member requests attention to these details, give the member what he/she wants.)
  5. A GOOD WRITING GROUP DECIDES WHEN IT IS MOST PRODUCTIVE TO READ WORKS. Make clear guidelines about when a ms should be added to the pool. (To save everyone's precious time, the ms should be the best the writer can produce.) Also, should you read someone else's critique of a ms before you write your own critique of the work? Perhaps first-time critiquers will find it helpful to read someone else's comments first -- but encourage members to never critique the critique! The focus is on the ms. Comments are fresher when critiquers critique before reading other's comments. Often the same weak spot will be discovered.
  6. WRITING GROUP MEMBERS SHOULD RE-READ BEFORE HITTING THE 'SEND' BUTTON. Sometimes jokes can be misconstrued across cultures and may be offensive to someone. Check your email before you send it off, making sure there is nothing to offend anyone.
  7. A GOOD WRITING GROUP SHARES SUCCESSES, REJECTIONS AND MARKET INFORMATION. This is the way to build group trust and support. Members look out for each other.
  8. MEMBERS MUST DEVELOP A THICK SKIN. Whether online or in the flesh, don't take criticism personally. Your job isn't to defend your work -- it's to improve it. Use the suggestions you like and ignore the rest. If several members make the same suggestion or point out the same problem, maybe consider taking their opinions seriously.
  9. A GOOD WRITING GROUP KEEPS THE LINES OF COMMUNICATION OPEN. If for any reason you need a break from writing or critiquing, let the group members know. It's bad form if someone sends out a ms then doesn't hear back from several members of the group.
  10. WRITING GROUP MEMBERS NEED TO EMBRACE BEING ONLINE. This sounds obvious -- if you've chosen to join an online writing group, it suggests that you like/prefer the online experience. But some people have email accounts which they never check. Whatever way a writing group decides to communicate - via a facebook closed group, emails, a dedicated blog...this needs to be checked constantly. By joining an online writing group, you are committing to reading and responding to mss.
'Writers aren't exactly people...they're a whole lot of people trying to be one person.' F Scott Fitzgerald.


Thanks to The Writing Group Book, edited by Lisa Rosenthal, for some of the ideas in this post.

  • Are you in an online writing group? Share your experience...
  • If you joined an online writing group, what would be your expectations?
  • Can you add anything to my list of tips?







19 comments:

  1. You're right about having a leader to keep the group going - very important. I agree with your list, on every point. I created a group a few years ago, and we exchanged one chapter of a manuscript or a completed short story for critique by all the members. We met twice a month, but eventually changed it to once a month as life got busy. Everything was exchanged on line and critiqued on line and if the person couldn't make the breakfast meeting they would still pass on their critique via computer. Another group I attended simply showed up to a meeting and read aloud the chapter or article they wanted critiqued and everyone who wanted to comment, did. It wasn't as helpful as a written critique, but it was still valuable. More social, than the first group. I love the idea of an online group.

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    1. Thanks for telling us of your experience Yolanda. It's finding what works that's the key I think. I'm glad to hear you like the idea of an online group.

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  2. I like this idea, Denise. Your tips sound very sensible and I especially like the point you make of developing a thick skin to be able to take on criticisms of your work - that's probably the most difficult part of being a member of a group. Once a month would be fine I would think, shorter timing wouldn't be feasible and a longer time span would be difficult to maintain interest.

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  3. I was, in the distant past, on authonomy - in its earliest days when people were constructively honest (it didn't last long) - and have been put off online writing groups. I belong to 2 face-to-face groups - it's easy, then for someone to admit to feeling fragile sometimes, so we know it's time for encouragement and leaving critiquing for another day. It's also possible for someone to ask for red pen, line edits before a piece is sent out. How do you replicate that level of trust with people online - and sustain it?

    And, with an online group, do you have an open group, so people can come and go, or a closed group - and, if it's closed, how do you find people to join?

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  4. I've never been in an online group, so thanks for the tips. I hadn't thought it needed a leader, but that makes sense.

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  5. Hi Denise - being a leader in anything is hard work - and having others help along is just amazing - a team really can do wonders ... It's great being out and about in the blogging world and meeting others ... and finding so many ready to help ...

    Cheers Hilary

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  6. I've never been a part of any writing group, but your guidelines are sharp. Communication is important.

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  7. You've really done your homework! Great tips there, I love it when someone else read a good guide and summarises it for me :)

    You'll be a great leader, you're so orgnanised.

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  8. Like Alex, I have never been a part of one either, but these tips are awesome. Have a happy Thursday Denise :)

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  9. Never been apart of one, but yeah thick skin goes for much in the online world

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  10. I haven't ever joined any large groups for critique, either in person or online. I rely on a couple of critique partners instead. I always thought it would take a year to get feedback on a novel from a big group since everyone is limited in how much they can submit. But if you can take what they say about a particular chapter and apply it to the rest, it would be a good option.

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  11. I've been part of an online group, just one in the real world, and I'd add not to overwhelm members with assignments.

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  12. In terms of critiquing, I'd say it's better to not read someone else's assessment of a chapter before doing a critique myself. I was part of an online workshop and found that some members basically copied comments, which is unfair to the writer.

    I'd say people have to be dedicated from the get-go and willing to commit the time. Ages ago, I started a group with some writers whose abilities I respected, set up a private forum and all that, but for some, life got in the way and reviews were not exchanged in a timely manner, so the group fell apart after a while. They do work though. That much I know and yes, someone to do the herding is required.

    One of my ambitions is to run an online workshop like the one that helped me and that is coming together through a developer. I don't know of a better way for writers to help each other.

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  13. I've never been in a writing group, online or otherwise. Maybe it's time to change that. I'll have to keep this page bookmarked.

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  14. Excellent list. I have a local critique group, and I belong to an online writing group. Thick skin is a must, and honesty is always appreciated.

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  15. Great tips. I really need to get me a face-to-face writing group.

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  16. Thanks for the great tips, Denise. I keep saying I'm going to join a writing group, but we're on the go too much. Thank heavens for Beta readers and Critique Partners!

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  17. All valid points Denise. Dedication is the key, and mutual understanding. Good luck with the membership.

    .......dhole

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  18. I think you brought up so many great points. I have never been part of an online writing group- but think it is an excellent option for people connecting with writers from other places. It is something to think about for sure! Thanks for providing such clear ideas about what would help an online group work. I can't think of anything to add! :)
    ~Jess

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