Face-to-Face Writing Groups

I tried a face-to-face writing group once. It consisted of a couple of very talented poets, an aspiring journalist, and a nice lady who was working on a family cookbook. All lovely people, but none of them seeking publication for their book. No one who could give me really helpful feedback on my YA novel. So I quit that group and stuck with my online critique circle. And for awhile that was enough.

But since my return to writing, I found myself wanting more. Maybe I needed a little extra encouragement, since my skills had deteriorated over the break. Maybe I just wanted some adult conversation. Regardless, I decided to find an SCBWI group that met in my area and I went to a meeting.

Oh. My. Gosh.

Kidlit authors. Seeking publication. Reading their stuff and giving feedback. Sharing snacks. I was ET and the mother ship had landed. That first night, I didn't share any of my work, but I listened to chapters from MG and YA books in various stages of completion—paranormal, historical fiction, humorous contemporary, sci-fi. A couple of really awesome and publishable picture books. I listened to feedback and shared some of my own. The moderator read a snippet from a book on writing and organization, and we talked about scheduling our writing time—how we struggle, what works, what doesn't. After two hours, I left feeling completely rejuvenated. My writing cup overfloweth. I can't believe I have to wait a month to go back.

Why so rabid, you wonder? It's because this is what happens when you write alone:

No, seriously, here's the deal. I'm a shy person. I don't like meeting new people. I'm usually in my pajamas by 7:30 and would much prefer an evening in to socializing after the kids go to bed. But I already know that stepping outside of my comfort zone one night a month with this group is going to make me a better writer. They're people I can talk to about all things kidlit, people I can get together with because they don't live a gajillion miles away (Ange, you know you're the Rocky to my Road. You'll always be top shelf in my freezer no matter how far away you are). And let's be honest: they're contacts. I'm networking here and I didn't have to shell out a registration fee or drive five hours to do it.

Clearly, writing groups aren't for everyone. No time, no sitter, no group in your area—those are real reasons, and I feel your pain. But…if you haven't attended a face-to-face group because you think it isn't worth the time or energy, or you just don't know where to look, here's my challenge for you. Go to the SCBWI website (click on Regions, then Regional Chapters. Choose your region and click on the official website on the right-hand side to find groups in your area). See if any groups meet near you and go to one meeting. It may not work for some of you, but I'm betting that for most, it will rock your world. Then email me and tell me about your experience. Good or bad, I really, really, REALLY want to hear from you.

Anyone out there already in a group that you can't live without? What do you do at your meetings and what's so great about your group?

46 comments:

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for your inspiring post. Although my first adult novel comes out this week, I've just had my first children's novel accepted (10-14 age). I'm a member of a local writing group which has always been a great support, but I forgot about SCBWI and we have one here in Scotland now. Off to check it out!

Laura Pauling said...

I used to attend a face to face and when that ended I found CC. But I live in a rural enough area that I'd have to drive too far for a face to face. I'm extremely happy with crit groups by email. I do prefer a small group now though to CC. I ended up critting way too much. But I did find a few writing friends and we still critique each other's work.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I don't have the same excuse as Laura about the commute, but I'm also happy with my circle of online writer/blogging friends who beta read/crit for me. I do, though, get together once a month with an awesome group of kidlit writers. I have a great time everytime we get together. ;)

tracikenworth said...

Time, money, and the commute are my problem with a face-to-face but I love my online crit group, so not sure I'd have time to give others a fair shot. Plus the gas and location would kill me and don't let me start on getting a babysitter out here in Amish country. lol. I think it's great that your benefiting though.

ninthmuse (roz m) said...

I had to be talked into joining my critique group when it was just getting off the ground. But it turned out to be one of the best decisions I've made in my life. Even as the members of our group have bowed out because of other responsibilities or moved away, our personalities have all meshed quite well, which allows us to communicate well with each other. The value of our group comes from the fact that we don't all write in the same genre-- eyes that are not regular readers of your genre can catch mistakes or loose ends that might otherwise have been missed or offer a new perspective to a story that has been told time and time again.

ninthmuse (roz m) said...

Oh, and we use Skype/Tokbox/whatever videoconferencing method we can get to work on our different computer platforms, since we no longer all live close to each other.

TerryLynnJohnson said...

this is such an interesting post! Like you, I tried an in-person group a few years back. But it clearly didn't fit. I'm very happy with my on-line crit partners who I now consider friends.
But I'm very excited to be going to a SCBWI conference/writing retreat in a few weeks. The chance to meet with like-minded people and talk about each others work sounds like a blast.
How wonderful you've found a great group!

Bluestocking said...

This was helpful to hear. I've been dealing with a local on-again off-again writing group with some really nice people but they aren't organized and driven as much as I'd hoped. I've been debating joining RWA and SCBWI for awhile now... Thanks!

Marcia said...

I agree that going through SCBWI is the best bet for finding a face-to-face made up of children's writers aiming for publication. Glad you found such a great group!

Angela Ackerman said...

This post is so timely, as I've just agreed to start up a Face to Face critique group for SCBWI Calgary! You can bet I'll be skyping you to pick your brain on what works the best for you guys, Becca!

Angela

Lisa Gail Green said...

"I was ET and the mother ship had landed." LOVE that!! It's so true. We do understand each other like no one else. I am soooo lucky to have my wonderful group. And even more locally, I couldn't live without Julie Musil and Leslie Rose, I may not have known them as long as some others in my life, but they get me like no one else. Shame on you for getting me all teary eyed!!

Matthew MacNish said...

I'm not sure I could handle all that contact with human beings.

Terri Tiffany said...

So glad you found one you love! I used to run a group here in Clermont for two years and then had to let it go because of a job. I miss that face-to-face contact and wish someone else would start one!

Sheila Deeth said...

I love just knowing there's other people walking the same path. Best bit of our group is the group critiques. Worst bit is persuading anyone to be brave enough to be critiqued.

Julie Musil said...

Becca, I'm so happy for you! Like Lisa Green said, her and Leslie Rose and I are like the three amigos. We have crazy fun, and keep each other lifted when things get wacky. Their writing is brilliant and I learn from them all the time.

Melinda Metz said...

I'm so with you. I'm still mourning the loss of the writing group I left when I moved. They--and the experience--were awesome.

Holly Ruggiero said...

I haven't joined any writers groups yet. I don't count forums. ;)

I see a group having both good and bad qualities, and it would be essential to find the right one.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Wow. I wonder we have any groups like that around here. Montana does have its disadvantages at times. :-)

M.F. Atkins said...

I am a member of three critique groups. One is a picture book only critique group. We met through the picture book marathon in February 2010. We've been going strong ever since. I also am in an e-mail group related to grad. school. We started out critiquing each other's theses (middle grade and YA novels), but we've continued. However, I dearly love my face to face group too. We meet once a month. Another SCBWI member and I started the group. We are all within 50 miles of each other. I absolutely love being able to get together at a local coffee shop and "talk shop" and critique. In all three groups we are working toward publication. I know three writing groups is a lot (I also work full-time and have 2 small children), but I have to have a deadline looming for me to get something done, so since I've been involved in these groups, I have been extremely productive.

1000th.monkey said...

I find the best thing about face-to-face writing groups is the ability to clear up confusion. I beta-read a LOT for online writing buddies and I find that in my real life group, we are way more willing to ask each other questions during the critique, ask for a more in-depth explanation, or even ask another member, 'did you also find that is a problem?'. People are also more willing to brainstorm with each other and often those sessions, where everyone is pitching in to help solve a problem, have been the best and most informative meetings.

With online buddies, you don't get that same back-and-forth dialogue that you do sitting in front of a real person.

Karen Lange said...

I belong to a local group but usually can't make the meetings due to a prior commitment. They are having a workshop on a Saturday in May, though; I am looking forward to that. I also have some great online writing friends I can discuss things with.

Glad you found a good fit! It is nice sometimes to see people in person. :)

Becca Puglisi said...

Finding a good fit is definitely key, as I learned through my first group. And if you're involved in a good critique group that meets your needs, that's such a great thing. I had that too, at one time, and it served a definite purpose in my life for a while.

Okie Book Woman said...

The SCBWI face to face critique group that I belong to has been together for over ten years. It has been an incredible source of learning and support, and all of us have become better writers. We celebrate each other's successes and share the disappointment of rejections. I can't begin to tell you how much I cherish my group!

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I miss my face to face critique partners. When I moved 6 hours away they became on line cps....I'm thankful I have them and my bloggy buddies turned cps, but the face to face interaction is really beneficial in so many ways. I'm glad you found a group!

Shakespeare said...

Face to face groups are by far my preference. I like HEARING the stuff read aloud, and I am not shy, so I need that engagement.

Since I've moved, though, I haven't had it. I really need it, too. I always find it inspires me, and right now I could use the inspiration!

Judith said...

I've been attending my face-to-face children's writers critique group for over 25 years! The individuals and numbers vary from year to year as members' lives change, but the core group has remained stable. We meet weekly, the manuscripts are read aloud, and members make comments and suggestions; the group is both honest and supportive. We have both beginning writers and national award winners in our makeup. Wednesday group is a high priority for me, and it's a rare week that I'm not in attendance. Love. It. :)

Patti said...

I'll have to check that out since I think I've been lacking a little bit in the critique area.

Larissa said...

I have attended something like face-to-face writing groups. I've attended a class where we brougth our stories and had them critiqued by class mates. It was a very valuable experience and I wouldn't exchange it for the world. However, I would like to add that it is intimidating at first but that gets easier and easier every time you attend it.
At our meetings, before we would meet, we would read each others stuff then come to the meeting with a written critique then we would talk about their story at the meeting. It wasn't like we attacked the author we would talk about their work and it was very helpful as long as every contributed to the conversation. I think every writer needs to go to a face-to-face critique.

Julie Hedlund said...

I'm so glad for you! I have a fabulous online crit group but would love to have a face to face group. It's nice when you can actually see people and socialize with them!

anna said...

It's great to read about your experience and though I'm a bit on the shy side too, I think I am going to bite the bullet and take your advice. Thanks for an inspiring post.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I found my critique group through SCBWI and a writing class. I really like the in person critiques because you can really talk about what isn't working in a manuscript.

I found another online critique partner through SCBWI who is so helpful too and we've become friends. I think critique groups are so important because we lose objectivity about our own work. And I can so relate to being shy and home at 7:30 BTW.

Kelly Hashway said...

I have an on-line critique group and I love it, but I'm really interested to see if there are any SCBWI groups that meet in my area. Thanks! I'm going to check it out.

Janet, said...

congratulations in finding a great group to meet with! I am a member of a local writing group, we meet once a month. We don't all write the same genre, but each one is very helpful and willing to critique each others work. I think we have learned about other genres by doing that. I don't think they are as 'wanting' to get their works published as I am. And some don't write very much, but nevertheless, it has been a great help to me. I love the members of the group, they are a great bunch of people. But, I wish we could meet twice a month instead of once a month.

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

Becca, I'm so happy for you! Your enthusiasm and joy really comes through this post. I hope you'll continue to share your experiences with this new adventure. It sounds like you found a great group that really works for you. Yea!

Carol Riggs said...

This is SO true. I belong to a local group of writers but none (ok, maybe one-ish) are YA. I have to get my writerly critter fix by swapping online with other YA authors. And I commune with other YA bloggers. It's a totally diff environment!

And I love SCBWI conferences. I'm excited to be going to the Oregon one in 2 weeks, rah!

kathrynjankowski said...

Though my local SCBWI group is small, I look forward to our monthly meetings. Writers get each other in ways non-writers just can't match.
Congratulations on finding one that works for you!

Christina Lee said...

My first face to face writing group felt something like the first one you describe and for now I stick to on-line CP's. BUT I do enjoy getting together with writers face to face (just did dinner last night) and that feels really good!

Rene Peterson said...

A group of us here at SCBWIWWA are just starting to form. I feel a little intimidated but your blog is encouraging and heartening. Thank you!

Lisa Kilian said...

yes! I am so lucky to have a group I couldn't live without. In fact, I love them so much I wrote a tribute about them.

http://whatnottodoasawriter.com/2011/04/21/mistake-76-the-scary-drafts-%e2%80%94-a-tribute-to-my-critique-group/

These things are so rare. And if you find some goodp people, keep them close.

Or yes, you will begin to favor Jack Nicholson.

Trisha said...

That really does sound inspirational! I need to look for a writer's group here in my hometown.

GMR said...

Sounds like you met the perfect audience/sounding board to further your publication dreams. *claps enthusiastically* Congrats! ^_^

Lupe Ruiz-Flores said...

When we first started our critique group and it was suggested that we meet EVERY week, I was a bit anxious about it. But it has worked out so well. Meeting every week motivates me to have something ready so as not to waste anyone else's time, including mine.

Scott Miller (ScottyDM) said...

I joined a RL writers group about a month after the '08 NaNo, because one of the locals I met suggested it. It's organized through Meetup.com (which facilitates face-to-face groups in all subjects). We call our group Writers Write and we're in Colorado Springs.

There are at least a half-dozen writers groups in the Springs. Writers Write has a teach/learn/critique/socialize session every Thursday evening, and a write-in every Tuesday afternoon. It's $5.00 per year per person to pay for space on Meetup.com.

Anita (sci-fi/thriller) runs the group, but I'm (anthro/sci-fi/romance) a staunch regular on Thursday nights. I'll be teaching POV the 19th this month (unless Anita reschedules it for the 12th), and verb tense in June. Critique is the 4th Thursday of each month. We have anywhere from 4 to 12 people on Thursday nights.

Thursday night critique is limited to about 1,500 words due to time. And a few of us are doing e-mailed multi-chapter critiques. We have an interesting mix of authors, and almost all of us write fiction. Sort of similar to the CC mix.


And now for something completely different: Looking over your Emotion Thesaurus--where's Determination? I wrote: "He set his jaw." But that... I don't know. :-p

He leaned forward. He clenched his jaw. He clenched his fists. He narrowed his eyes.

Or some combination thereof.

S~

Becca Puglisi said...

It's so nice to hear what people are doing in their groups (Ange, take notes). I'm especially happy to hear that most everyone is involved in a critique group of some kind--so important, regardless of the format. Scotty, thanks for the heads-up. Angela and I are keeping a list of emotions that aren't in the thesaurus (for future print-thesaurus possibilities) and we missed that one altogether. *boggle*

Alex F. Fayle said...

I've had bad experience with writing groups and an amazing experience with my online one, mainly because the online one is large enough that those of us who "click" are able to find each other, whereas th face-to-face groups included all types of writers and I never "clicked" with anyone.

That said, now that I live in Northern Spain I do miss the face-to-face interaction with other writers. But for that I'll start going to conferences as soon as the budget allows it.

Lilly said...

You are so, so right! About everything in this post. I'm currently finishing the revisions on my 1st novel. It has been a roller coaster ride. More so, since English is my second language, etc.
I used to meet up with this writing circle that was really good, but didn't meet my expectations. I'm really new at this and it's hard to know whether I'm making the right choices or not; but the group I joined was for ALL types of literature, except poems. I was the only one writing a fantasy novel. So, basically their help was good, but very limited when it came to my book. I'm still looking for a appropriate critique group. :-/

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