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Why You Shouldn't Join a Writers' Group

If you aspire to be a productive, working professional writer, don't join writer's groups. Don't go to writer's Meetups. Don't take classes at the local community college for aspiring novelists. Just...don't.

It may seem like I'm shitting unfairly on these groups, but I'm really not. There's nothing wrong with joining a local writing group if you're a hobbyist, if you're farting around with a novel in your spare time, or if you just enjoy the company. If you dig reading your stuff and listening to other people read their stuff, go for it.

But if you're a pro with legit credits and a ledger of published works, 99% of writer's groups will be a waste of your time. For that matter, so will most writer's conferences. (More on that later.) That's because the majority of the people who join your average community writing group or writing Meetup are amateurs. They're wannabe novelists or poets who believe and propagate the worst myths about being a writer—you need to wait for inspiration, there's some qualifier for being a "real" writer, and so on.

Again, there's nothing wrong with being an amateur at something, but if you're a professional at that something, what do you have to gain from hanging around with amateurs, especially when they think they know as much about your profession as you do? The vast majority of writer's groups are populated by amateurs, and they come together primarily for three reasons:

  1. To talk about writing.

  2. To listen to each other's work read aloud.

  3. To receive praise for their work.

But as a pro, you don't need any of those things. I've been writing professionally for 34 years, and as a freelancer for 26 years, and you know what I'd rather have from a writing group?

  1. Talk about the business and how to find gigs, get agents, etc.

  2. Valid, precise criticism of my writing, so I can get better.

  3. Networking with possible future collaborators.

You're not going to find those things at your run-of-the-mill amateur writer's group, because the members aren't professionals. For them, writing is either something they do purely for fun, or they're aspiring novelists working on the tenth draft of something that will likely never see the light of day. Sorry, but it's true. Most of the writing in writer's groups—and I know this because I've belonged to many over the years—is BAD. If it was good, these folks would be earning a living with their fiction or articles or scripts and they wouldn't have time to sit in a circle listening to someone read their latest stuff.

My other complaint about writer's groups is that they take time away from writing. Writers write. That's what we do. On a typical day, I'll write for 5-6 hours. Some days, when I'm on deadline or nearing the end of a book, I'll hammer away for 12 hours. It's work. And when you're critiquing someone else's mediocre genre fiction, you're not writing. You're also not editing, networking, researching, writing proposals, marketing, or doing any of the other activities that sustain a freelance professional.

So, what are the alternatives? Find groups of working professionals, if you can. Trouble is, they're tough to find because pros are busy working. Instead, try:

Oh yeah, conferences. I'm tough on conferences for the same reason I'm tough on writer groups: they're mostly for wannabes. However, conferences are terrific opportunities to network with other pro writers as well as agents and publishers. Find the right ones with a strong industry focus and they're worth your time. Now, go write.

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