What’s your writers’ group really about?

Is your writers’ group really about writing, or is something else going on? If you’re sensing danger signs, maybe it’s time to move on?

If you’re a newbie creative writer, there’s nothing more wonderful than finding a group of like-minded souls who are all passionate about the craft of writing, books, reading, and all the things that fill your soul with joy.

And since creative writing can be isolating, it’s a fantastic way to connect with your peers and the cultural scene around you, and become part of a lively community. I’ve belonged to several writers’ groups over the years, and met some great people and friends through them.

But writers’ groups can also hold you back. As you evolve as a writer and your ambitions grow, you may find yourself outgrowing the group. A constant flow of newbie members can mean there’s little to challenge writers with serious professional aspirations.

If you want to write professionally, be honest about why you’re in your writers’ group. Is it really about your writing? Or something else?


It’s only natural that if writing is part of our identity, we love to feel validated. A certain amount of ego is healthy and even necessary when it comes to riding out the storms of a writing career.

And writers’ groups are great for validation, because they’re often very nice. Positive feedback can boost your self-esteem and grow your confidence.

However, if you’re ambitious and want to write professionally, then it’s time to see your need for validation for what it is.

  1. Are you in danger of becoming a big fish in a small pond? Will that stop you from growing?
  2. Do you depend on others’ opinions for your sense of worth?
  3. Is the validation truly valuable? Are the group too complacent or kind?


Ideally, we need to wean ourselves off the need for validation, and develop thick skins and a radar for our own high standards. In sport, it’s often said we should play with people slightly better than us. In writing, this isn’t true. Learn from the best – by reading, analysing, practising.

Social Life?

By and large, writers’ groups are full of quirky, intriguing and bookish people who are widely read and passionate about writing. They tend also to be interested in book festivals and writing news, and can be a source of useful information. Above all, it’s such a joy to meet people who really “get” writing.

  1. Some people much prefer talking about writing to actually doing it.
  2. You can get so sucked into organising events or helping other writers that you don’t do your own writing.
  3. A social life based around other writers can be its own bubble, at a remove from inspirational new experiences.


Writers’ groups are great for collaborating on readings, workshops and other events. But for more stimulus, we need to meet people with more interesting experiences and potential stories. Get to know scuba divers, mountaineers and oil rig workers… people in demanding physical and not cerebral, deskbound jobs. Learn from the example of Ernest Hemingway and Bruce Chatwin and go off the beaten track. The writing life can be limited, which makes for limited worlds in our stories.


Some writers’ group are big on goal-setting and targets. If you’re the kind of writer who often procrastinates, this can be a great help.

But people write for different reasons. Many do it for fun, and don’t want to be too intense and driven about it. Or they may feel that word counts and goals are at odds with their artistic nature. And if there’s nothing at stake if you don’t meet goals or deadlines, will it keep you accountable?


An accountability partner on the same wavelength is a great help. Agree goals for a specific period of time, to create a tight focus. It doesn’t matter if you’re in different genres, as long as you have the same drive and work ethic.

how to use camera shots in fiction writing wide shot
Writing technique – how to use camera shots in fiction WIDE


Writing Craft?

The best groups run events with established guest writers, so everyone can learn and be inspired.

But beware of critique groups among inexperienced writers – often, it’s a case of the blind leading the blind. If you’re new to writing, it’s hard to know what to think when someone assertively states “don’t use adverbs”, or “show, not tell”. They may send you Elmore Leonard’s list of dos and don’ts for writers, or recommend books and videos. But can they really write? Or are they just parroting received wisdom?

Creative writing is such a nuanced, complex process, and can’t be reduced to rules. Even well-established writers can be very bad at explaining their own process, and are often reluctant to do so, in case it eludes them next time. A spirited or unusual new voice can be crushed by simplistic writing craft skills, or a damaging encounter with a critique group.

New writers have to negotiate the difficult territory of learning from others but developing their voice and skills. Pro writers learn, you have to go through this process too, but you don’t want to be exposed to people who are potentially destructive for your own formative stage.


If you really want to up your game, invest in professional feedback from an experienced editor or literary consultant. If they know their stuff and come from an industry background, you’ll learn more in one session than in a whole year of writers’ group meetings. Be warned that this isn’t for the faint-hearted! If you’re looking for validation, you might be disappointed.

Face-to-Face or Online Writers’ Groups?

In many ways, online writers’ groups have taken the place of face-to-face writers’ groups. It’s far easier to find other writers interested in your niche genre. You can listen from the sidelines to see if it’s for you before joining, and move on without feeling guilty. The quality of writing training is often better online, too.

But there’s nothing to beat the pure inspiration of meeting real writers face-to-face, especially if you love their work. Writers’ groups are a chance to keep in touch with the spark that got your hooked in the first place, and newbie zeal can get you fired up all over again.

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