Benefits/ Drawbacks to Writing Groups


Active Member
May 7, 2019
What are some things you've noticed about your writing after joining a writing group or community? Have you noticed significant improvement to your prose? Your story structure? Or your characters?

What are some drawbacks you've noticed in writing groups? Does it impact your creative outlet negatively? Does the time commitment to the group take too much focus away from working as much as you'd like on your story?

I'm not looking for any specific answers, and I am in a writing group; I'm just curious as to what other writers' experiences are with writing groups/ communities and what they like and not so much like about them.
I was in a f2f group through our public library that was well run. That's key, I think. It met once a month and there was definitely a time commitment because we had to provide critiques. I found it valuable, but this was before I had completed my first novel, so it came at a time when I was learning a bunch of basic stuff. While I still learn with every new project, I don't feel another writing group would offer the same return on investment.

The biggest benefit of that time was the time spent critiquing the work of others. And not so much the actual reading but the effort in composing critiques that were appropriate for that author. Some folks were experienced, some were newbies, and some were so unsure of themselves, what they mostly needed was encouragement. I also learned from listening to the critiques from others in the group. Some were definitely better at it than were others, and I learned what to do and what not to do.

But it's a delicate business. One needs not only to find the right people, but also find them at the right time in one's own writing life, and have it all come with a workload appropriate to your own free time. I was lucky.
I agree with what sknox has said.

At one time I belonged to an excellent writing group, which I belonged to for many years. I've also had some slight experience with other groups, but I always came back to that one, because it offered me the most and there were members whose opinions and advice I respected. I learned a great deal during my time with them.

The important thing to remember is that the kind of criticism you receive from any group you join should be constructive: not too cut-throat (everybody trying to one-up each other, and the critiques becoming sarcastic and condescending), and not too concerned with stroking each other's egos by unremitting praise (in the hopes of receiving the same in turn).

Of course, composing one's critiques in a way that is honest but tactful and respectful takes time, and some people don't want to waste theirs, but if they don't have time for that, they may not have time to give anyone's work a careful reading either. Look for people of good-will who sincerely wish to help each other learn, and who are interested in learning and improving themselves. If you find such a group, you have found a treasure.
@sknox and @Teresa Edgerton thank you for your responses and good insight into your experiences in your respective writing groups. It sounds like you both came across a good situation at some point in your writing life! Are either of you still part of a writing group, or do you find that you get more out of your writing outside of the traditional writing group setting? I.e. writing the first drafts of a novel and then submitting it to your own community of alpha/ beta readers?
I belong to a U3A group (older folks). Our leader is an author, active and quals in writing. We write short pieces on a theme she sets. This weeks is on 'increasing tension'. Whatever that means. Still even if my stuff is rubbish I get feedback so helps. Some members seems to write about their own experiences which I find odd, not really looking to find out about their lives. Poems I find difficult and to be true start off with ChatGPT and then modify the theme I ask for. The subject of using AI for inspiration has never come up ad the leader is more traditional I guess. Still, what does it matter where inspiration comes from? I see Ai as a refined way of researching online.
I no longer to go a writing group. I have beta readers, though not an editor. I will also sometimes submit a shorter piece to the critique groups on forums, including this one. I'm fairly confident in my writing now; I'm looking more for feedback on specific aspects or passages than I am looking for feedback on my writing in general.

There's a point--or, rather, it's more of a rather fuzzy region--that I have crossed. I don't think my writing is going to get much better. There's a ton of room for me to tell a story better, to improve the handling of a scene. There's also much room for me to use my time better, to flounder about less and have more of my energy focused on the story itself. But most of that improvement is going to come from my own inspection and my own review of my methods. I want to get to where I take no more than a year to write a novel. I know I can do it because I did it, but I'm not sure a writing group will be much help on such matters.

As with most advice, it's all useful at some point in a person's history, and at other points it's not much help at all.
I've been to several writing groups. One, Verulam Writers' Circle in St Albans (VWC), was pretty crucial to my writing career. VWC had a wide range of people (from 14 to 75, at once point) and several published writers. It was very geared to producing publishable books, which helped greatly. I had some strong criticism there, but it was fair and my writing improved greatly.

I think there are potential problems with writing groups, especially in the criticism. One is the person who simply wishes that you'd written a fundamentally different story. Another is the person who doesn't so much want criticism as permission to continue: we had a few people who would read out huge chunks of text without listening to any suggestions, which wasted time (we got around this by asking people to say what exactly they wanted us to help with before they started). I think if you're not careful, a writing group can just be a mutual-congratulation society, where members just congratulate each other on writing another load of words, and don't improve.

As @sknox says, there does come a point where you need that kind of help less (although nobody ever is above criticism). These days, I need help more with the publishing business than in writing the actual prose (I have a few trusted friends who read my work as well), and writing groups aren't as useful for that.
I tried a few writer's groups many years ago, but the main problem I had with them was that they were made up of writers. It struck me that I was writing for readers and not other writers, so I often found the writerly feedback I received not very useful.

I also discovered that I was providing feedback as to how I would write or amend their work rather than providing assistance regarding their writing, so I decided on both counts that they and I would be better off without me.
I actually went back to my old writing group in November last year and gave a short talk about my experiences. It was quite odd, as I see my writing career - at least at the moment - as a failure. But I've had books published, and so am a reasonable way ahead of some of the attendees. Anyhow, I did my talk, but giving positive advice was quite difficult! I hope I didn't put too many of them off.
I suppose if I could have any job, it would be "mid-list SFF writer circa 1995, but forever". Unfortunately, the mid-list no longer exists, which makes it quite hard to achieve. Anyhow, things are in the doldrums at the moment, and I've found that self-publishing is, for various reasons, not for me. It's a difficult point, but hopefully I'll come up with something.
I suppose if I could have any job, it would be "mid-list SFF writer circa 1995, but forever". Unfortunately, the mid-list no longer exists, which makes it quite hard to achieve. Anyhow, things are in the doldrums at the moment, and I've found that self-publishing is, for various reasons, not for me. It's a difficult point, but hopefully I'll come up with something.
Well maybe you need to come on Chronscast ? Mr Palmer is coming back this year so … let’s hear it for our Chrons authors
I am a member of a writing group and find them immensely useful and my writing has come on a great deal because of them. However I have to keep in mind a clear idea of what I am trying to write and filter the feedback. People who are not writing what you are (genre wise) don't always have ideas that sync with your own.
We meet up in a local pub (Real ale) and each person gets 10 minutes to read out their piece. The general aim of the group is to get stuff published. We tend to be a mix of crime writers, romance, horror, fantasy, sci-fi ranging from children to adult literature.
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I don't want to turn this thread into "The X types of people you meet in a writing group", but sooner or later someone who considers themself to be an expert will attempt to school you. It's usually somebody who's had a tiny bit more experience than you and has a big enough personality/head to want to lord it over the group. For beginner writers in particular, it takes a degree of confidence to ignore such people. My rule of thumb is that if the criticism isn't delivered tactfully, it's not worth hearing, because the person giving it lacks an understanding of nuance (or is plain rude).
Is there a certain size of writing group that seems to work best for people?
I've been part of groups that range between 6-8 people and while it's nice to get so many different views on your piece, the amount of work you have to put in to review other people's works is extensive and often leads to less thought out reviews. It also impacts your own writing time.
I've also been in writing groups with 4 people and that seemed to work quite well with respect to input versus reward. But at the same time, in both group sizes, I've certainly experienced the 'X types of people you meet in a writing group' and, more often than not, a beneficial review was followed up by a not nearly as helpful 'you really should go this route with your story because of XYZ'.
I find that general writing groups are most helpful for newer writers. Once you've gotten your feet wet, not only with writing groups but with your own writing, you'll better know what works for you in terms of a writing group. Personally, when I was starting I joined a few different general writing groups. This allowed me to learn how to critique and work with other writers, as well as give me an understanding of the different paths to success (not everyone is looking to publish). Then I was able to look for writing groups that focused on the specific things I was looking for, which for me was genre-specific and publishing specific.

In my personal experience, the goal of the writers in the group matters. Most of the general writers groups I've been in have people looking to self-pub or who tried and failed to trad pub. Some of these writers can be at best clueless about the needs of a trad pub writer, and at worst, antagonistic towards those needs. I assume there are cons the other way around, too. Most of the time it doesn't matter, it's just something to be aware of.

I personally also work better with groups who do less face-to-face meetings and more in-document critiquing. Once a quarter or month, or as needed for a project, is preferable to weekly live meetings. Weekly critiques is fine by me, though. This helps to reduce the lost time in live meetings as well as forces people to really focus on the writing while still allowing for camaraderie.

Now that I'm multi-published, I don't really use writing groups, favoring instead critique exchanges with other writers I've developed a relationship with who have similar goals and know what they are looking for. I'm not opposed to a more general type of writing group as they can be fun and spur your creative juices, but the return diminishes considerably when others aren't at a similar path in the journey as you are.
Ok I'm biased because I am on the committee of my regional writers group.
Our format is 2 hours weekly.
Each week we give a topic and the first hour is to read our short story or poem on that topic.
For the second hour we have a writing exercise which can be based on anything from using ten random words from a dictionary to being dealt a Dixit or Tarot card each. We have a broad range of abilities from novelists to beginners.
The accent is on social as well as writing. We link with poetry societies and bring in guest speakers, like TV scriptwriters for example.

I don't think I learn so much about writing, per-se, as I learn to write quickly and on demand, even when not in the mood for it. That discipline has been important.
The drawback to the group is the inevitable accent on flash fiction. That said, the same applies to all the writing challenges on here.
Another problem is that we are mostly older people, youngsters tend to be working when we meet during the day.
I did an anthology of the groups work lately, mainly as a recruiting tool.

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