Writing Groups: To Join or Not to Join?

One of the most beneficial things a writer can have is feedback. For many, it’s helpful to get that feedback along the process of the writing journey. One of the best ways is with a writing group.

Getting feedback on your writing at some point during the writing journey is essential, whether it’s once you have a draft, or if you work with a writing partner or group along the way. However, you need to make sure that you get an opinion outside of you, and preferably outside your family in order to have a realistic critique of your work.

We’ll break down how to get that critique, what a writing group is, and why it’s important.

Why Your Writing Needs to be Critiqued

Have you ever sent a long text only to have the recipient ask what the hell you’re on about? Then you realized that you forgot to tell them what you were thinking about in order to get to the point of that text?

When we’re creating worlds, characters, and situations, it’s easy to forget that the reader isn’t inside your head. The purpose of writing is to bridge the gap between you and the reader, so they can be inside your head. But a book or a story is only giving a small window. They don’t know what has worked to compile you—your history, your beliefs, your education, your experiences, your social sphere, your work, and so on. They don’t know what you’ve researched or what’s triggered your interests. Therefore, you need to make sure you are giving your readers enough information to be able to understand the story you’re portraying.

For example, I was once writing an urban fantasy. I was quite proud of how the first quarter of it was going. I had someone read it—telling them nothing about the book, I might add—and they told me they had no idea that it was an urban fantasy until the third chapter when I talked about a motorcycle. I thought that mentioning streetlights and buildings was enough, but I had assumed that the reader would just put it together.

Furthermore, once you do make sure everything is clear, a critique partner, writing group, or beta reader will likely catch the things you hadn’t thought of. For example, if you’re writing a scene where someone is carrying their jacket, then a bunch of stuff happens and then they put their jacket on at the end of it—where was the jacket while they were having that action sequence that resulted in a car theft and high-speed chase to another state? OR, it might be that you were too focused on the jacket throughout the whole thing, and it took away from the scene as a whole.

There are several ways you have your writing critiqued, You don’t have to stick to one—in fact, a variety of the following is optimal so that you can get a broader scope of what needs changing, what’s working, or what’s dragging.

Critique Partner

A critique partner is someone who is also a writer who is happy to swap work with you, either along the writing process or at the end. You read their work and they read your work, giving constructive feedback.

Your critique partner can also be an accountability partner. This is when two of you are working on your own pieces, but hold each other accountable for the goals you set forth.

In my Full Monthly and Full 6-Month coaching packages, I play the part of both critique partner and accountability partner. I read up to 5,000 words a week between sessions and give feed back on it all the while helping writers to set their goals and stick to them.

Writing Group

There are several types of writing groups, so you need to evaluate what you want from the group and to make sure that they’re working in your genre as well.

Some writing groups are simply just a handful of people who get together and write during that time. Other writing groups trade writing and give feedback, spending the time discussing a piece. It depends on the group that you find as to how a group is organized and run, but the basic idea of feedback writing groups is that everyone, at some point, has their writing read by everyone in the group, and feedback is given.

Because there is a group of people, it won’t be likely that a whole novel will be read at one time, but a chapter or two at a time, or x-amount of words.

Alpha & Beta Readers

Alpha and Beta readers are those who read your piece after you’ve finished it. This doesn’t mean that you give them the first draft after you’ve finished it, but that you’ve gone through it at least once, but preferably a few more times, before you hand it off for critique.

Your Alpha and Beta readers aren’t reading your piece as a writer, but as a reader. These are people who read in your genre and can tell you how it comes across as someone who just enjoys the art, but doesn’t necessarily take part in it.

Alpha Readers

An Alpha reader will be your first round of critique. These people will most likely be friends or family members. You’re less likely to get the critical feedback that you need, but they’ll tell you if it made sense, or anything else that won’t hurt your feelings, or that they think won’t hurt your feelings. Likewise, they’ll probably tell you if you had any typos or grammatical errors. Not always, but sometimes.

Many writers skip the Alpha reader phase, though they are helpful in that they will likely get your confidence up, which can be the courage you need to get to your Beta reader stage.

Beta Readers

Beta readers are best if they’re not close to you. You might know them, but they’re not people you generally hang out with on a social level. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. The idea is that you have someone who acts as reader first before friend/brother/cousin/etc.

Knowing specific questions you want answered is helpful as well when it comes to finding Beta readers. If you want someone to look your piece from a more structural and academic standpoint, then finding someone who studied literature might be of importance. If you just want someone to tell you how well the story flows, then educational interests and backgrounds may not be as important.

Why A Writing Group

The reason why a writer may opt for a writing group is simple: more eyes reading their work. The more people you have reading your work, the more able a writer is to find the median of actionable advice.

When you have one person read your writing, you’re only getting one person’s opinion. The key word there is opinion. Opinions aren’t fact, and when it comes to writing, which in an art, all there can be are opinions. Opinions are based on beliefs, experience, education, interests, etc., and because of such, they can vary from person to person. Hence, you can see varied book reviews. When you have more than one opinion you can see a broader picture.

For example, if you’re in a writing group with eight people, and three people say they thought the end was too abrupt whereas four say it was perfect and wouldn’t change a thing, and another person says the ending was perfect, however it could tie back to the beginning a little better, then you know that you’re at least on the right track regarding the ending.

Likewise, you have feedback as you write, which can save you more work in the long run. However, the risk that you run with this is getting stuck in the editing phase of your story before you’ve even finished your story. But the beauty of a writing group is that they also can act as accountability partners, which might help deter you from getting stuck editing one section of your book over and over again.

Where to Find Writing Groups

As I’m writing this, I’m in lockdown in the U.K.. Things are opening up, though it’s up in the air as to say whether or not it’s safe to meet up with a group of people in a public place at the moment. My very first thing I want to say about finding a writing group is to consider an online one where you meet up via Zoom or Skype or whatever else is out there. Always be safe first.

That being said, there are many places where you can find a writing group. There are online writing groups all over the internet, such as

This is just to name a couple to get you started.

However, if you want to meet up with people face to face, then consider looking at the bulletin board of your local library, on Craigslist or Gumtree, or on Meetup.

Be sure that you know what you’re looking for in a writing group, as well as know how much time you can dedicate to a writing group. Do you have enough time to meet up once a week or once a month? Do you have enough time to read everyone’s work and participate in the group between meetings?

Likewise, be prepared to pay a fee. Writing groups aren’t a money-making thing, usually (again, exceptions to every rule), however, a lot of groups rent out the space, or they might require that you be prepared to buy $10 worth of snacks or drinks from the café they’re held in. Your contribution is to make sure that there is always a location.

Main Take-Aways

If you have any ambition to publish or release your writing to the world, it is essential and wise to have at least one person outside your household, close friend-group, and family to read your work and give you constructive feedback.

There are many routes to do this:

Writing groups can be beneficial because there are a few minds providing feedback to help a writer get a broader understanding of how their writing is received. You can find writing groups online, and meet in person, or via video chat.

Your Homework

Think about how you write and when critique would most benefit you. Spend some time journaling on the following questions:

  1. How would I respond to feedback before I’m done writing my first draft?
  2. What is it I want to gain from feedback specifically?
  3. When is it most beneficial to receive that feedback?
  4. How do I feel about just one person working with me along the way versus a group of people?

Consider which option might suit you best—a critique partner and/or writing coach who will work with you along the way, a writing group, or only a Beta reader.

I write “only” a Beta reader because no matter what route you decide to take, Beta readers are essential. You cannot skip that step if you want to publish your work. They are as necessary as having someone other than you edit your work.

Have experience in any of these areas? Tell us about it in the comments below. Your experience can help other writers decide what works well for them.

Happy Writing!

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Published by

Nicola Thompson

Born and raised in the Pacific North West (Washington State to be specific), I'm currently living on a farm, raising chickens, and writing in North Yorkshire. A former editor of Durham University's online magazine, The Bubble, I also write for the magazine Carpe Nocturne, and have several short stories published in a variety of anthologies.

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