Last week, Josh and I hopped on a plane and headed to Seattle for AWP. AWP stands for Associated Writers and Writing Programs, and it's the largest writing conference in the galaxy. I mean, I guess we don't know that for sure. But I'm fairly confident.
Anyway, I learned a lot of things over those three days, and mostly outside of the panels I dragged myself to early in the morning after a greasy continental breakfast. When you spend half a week immersed in a group of 14,000 other writers, you're bound to pick up some good stuff.
you don't have to be a lone wolf
Of course, I see the appeal of being a lone wolf. It's very romantic and mysterious. But unfortunately, nobody stands over a lone wolf's shoulder and asks why the characters are taking so long over brunch. Nobody asks the lone wolf "did you write today?" every day until he grinds out a few thousand words just to assuage the guilt. And nobody offers to read a lone wolf's manuscript, or cheer a lone wolf up when his writing isn't going so well, or help a lone wolf figure out "that word for being a king, like 'rule,' but different, fancier..."
The point is, although some writers work best in solitude, almost no one can write in complete isolation. Here are some things a writing group can help with:
- Motivation. Nothing like knowing someone will notice if you don't make progress. Even better if nobody will let you make excuses.
- An outside eye. Often you can have a question that totally baffles you, but someone else can see the answer in a second. And if you're glued to a plot point that isn't working, you just might need someone to tell it to you.
- Peers. Writing is ridiculously hard. Having people that understand that and can help you celebrate your successes, even the little ones, is imperative. After all, your mom might not know that finally getting that opening paragraph perfect means you're basically almost done with the book.
- A critique group. At a panel about The Grind Daily Writing Series, one of the creators said something important: Beyond workshop class, there's no place where someone is required to read your writing. Getting someone to actually read your work, let alone give you meaningful feedback, can be near impossible. Team up with other writers so you can all scratch each others' backs. So to speak. Or literally, if that's what you want.
easier said than done
I know, I know... wanting a writing group is a completely different animal from having one. The likelihood of me being able to gather a group of jovial, tea-drinking, ink-fingered writer friends to gather at my apartment on Tuesday evenings for drinks and novel-writing is slim.
But good news: The Internet! That wonderful place where you can find people like you no matter what you're like. Forming a writing group online gives you a limitless reach and an ever-increasing variety of platforms to work from. You can join the thousands of writers who find community in the #amwriting tag on Twitter, you could join established systems like the aforementioned Grind, but even better, you can form your own group that fits whatever criteria you want.
In fact, I encourage it. I personally believe when a writing group hits 10 or 15 people, it starts to become impersonal, and that impersonality severely lessens the impact of that "you're not writing, are you?" guilt that would plague you in a smaller group.
Look , let's be honest: We're writers, and to some degree, that means we're good at lying. (Cue the V for Vendetta quote.) When someone asks me if I've been writing, I have a million excuses at the tip of my tongue. Oh, I've been dealing with a lot of stuff right now. I've got a pretty bad cold, been resting up. Work has been really busy. I had plans all weekend. I've been hashing through some plot stuff in my head. I have a big chunk of time set aside to write this coming weekend.
It's so easy to convince people that we're not being lazy, or scared, or whatever it is that keeps up from writing. But you can't use those excuses every day on the same ten people.
so how do I start a group?
Whether you need the kind of group you can touch base with once a month or the kind of group you can stay in a group chat with from dawn til dusk, there are people out there who need the same thing. You can find them lots of places: Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit, and more. (A hint for Twitter: the #amwriting tag is pretty popular, so try asking them for interest!) If you want an in-person group, consider Craigslist (be careful, though!), or if you go to school, try putting up posters or asking your teachers if you can stand up before classes and speak about it.
You'll also have to decide where to hold this group. If you're having in-person meetings, places like public libraries and coffee shops are generally pretty welcoming to writing groups, or if you're in school, see if you can use a classroom or study room.
As for online groups, plenty of social media platforms have group abilities (Facebook group, subreddit, a Tumblr page with shared user permissions), or you can try keeping a group chat up on AIM, gchat, Facebook, or Skype. If you want more flexibility, you could create a forum on a website like Proboards — but those take some real setup, so only do this if you're sure you won't spend more time putting your boards together than writing! ;) What kind of website you use will depend on how you want your group to function (motivation, inspiration, regular workshop?)
There are lots of writers out there, and some of them just need a little push.
Do you have a writing group? Are you looking to form or join on? Tell me about your writing group experiences in the comments.