Do You Really Need to Join a Writers’ Group to Write?

About once a week I get an email or phone call from someone wanting to know whether they should join a writing group to help them write.

I’ve been in several writing groups over the many years that I’ve written as a journalist and essayist, and I can tell you that, while I think they are very useful for a brief period of time, after awhile, the real thing you need to do if you want to publish your first book or your fifth book is to sit alone and write.

Oftentimes being a member of a writing group can keep you from doing the very thing that you’re trying to do in terms of finishing a piece of work. I can’t tell you how many countless times I’ve sat in groups where a manuscript novel is simply taken apart piece by piece in the middle of the work and virtually leaves the author so frazzled and frozen that they end up feeling like they have to either put it in a drawer or gut the whole thing and start from scratch.

Sometimes writing groups can actually be an “active form” of writer’s block because if you meet up with a bunch of other writers and you’re bringing stuff you’ve written but you never do anything with it outside the writing group, then you’ll still be in the same place the next year.

Mario Vargas Llosa said this of writing: “Writing a book is a very lonely business. You are totally cut off from the rest of the world, submerged in your obsessions and memories.”

Writing a book is a very solitary and lonely endeavor, but I think for the writer and for the ‘muse’ which visits the writer, the very act of trusting the universe enough to be alone with your work will enable you to create a masterpiece.

Writing is sitting still, being quiet, working and reworking paragraphs, outlines, chapters over and over again until you bring the book to its fullest life and it begins to speak to you, as well, so you are not really alone anymore.

While it’s great to build a good team of supporters of your work, like-minded peers who know that writing is a fantastic art and buoy you in your efforts, it’s supremely important to be your own cheerleader and push away any doubts you have about the work by simply doing more of it.

If you still need the social support side of writing, one of the ways you can do this is to allow yourself each year to attend a couple of writing conferences where you’ll have access to the best roundtable critiques of your work and the joy of being with other folks who are writers.

Put a calendar in front of you and commit to write for three months as a daily practice—no writing groups, no outside critiques, just write. Once you’ve finished the three months, then you can aim for a writing conference and spend a weekend in a writing group and enjoying the social support.

After that, come back and write for another three months and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you finish the work that was your dream in the first place and can get to the best part, which is sending it out to editors and agents to share with the world.

Categories: Writing

Author: Nettie Hartsock
  • Bill Stephens

    An interesting viewpoint, but you can read the pro rebutal in Bill Stephens' article, "Group Hug!" on Monday.

  • Nettie Hartsock

    Hi Bill,

    Nice points in your essay too – as I said, writing groups are good for some folks and don't work as well for others. And ultimately writing is still one person sitting at a computer. I like your points on how best to set up a writers' group to make it most effective as well.