I began writing my first crime thriller, Things Left Behind, in 2011. Being new to writing what did I do? I bought a lot of How to books at the local bookstore. These provided a wealth of information. The problem with taking this as my only course of study is the lack of growth. I’m not saying don’t buy books to help you become a better writer, but I’d advise against making them your only source.
So many authors fail to get their work critiqued by other writers. We see our manuscripts as works of art, when in fact, the writing could be better. It’s difficult to gauge your own writing because we don’t see our mistakes. We’re blind to them.
The Panhandle Writers Group (PWG) started in 2003 in Pace, Florida. They meet every week. I joined in 2011 and I’m still a member.
When I attended my first meeting with PWG, I did as many new members do. I sat and listened to others read a chapter of their work in progress. Each person had ten minutes followed by five minutes of critique. After a month, I finally got the nerve to read my first chapter. My work of art or so I thought.
When I finished, the group spent twenty minutes highlighting everything wrong with my work of art. Run-on sentences, too many adverbs, point-of-view shifts, weak plot, and a host of clichés. Basically, anything that could go wrong in writing was written in my first chapter. Not a big deal, right? These can be fixed.
Before I continue, there are two things worth mentioning.
First. My manuscript was finished or so I thought.
Second. All of my friends and family loved it. If those close to me loved the story then how could these writers not? Seriously?
All of us have friends and family who love our stories. The problem is they don’t generally give helpful or constructive feedback. And that’s if they give any at all. Beta readers do. For more of beta readers, click on the link.
After getting feedback from my newfound writing friends, all of it constructive by the way, I almost gave up a career before it took off. If my book was going to be published it needed a lot of rework. In fact, the entire manuscript had to be changed. Instead of quitting, I came back again. I’m not a glutton for punishment, but those first few months were the toughest. After all, who wants to get their work back with so many red marks. One of the reasons I continued to come back was because my fellow writers cheered me on. They saw potential where I didn’t.
If you’re looking to join a local writers group, but don’t know where to begin, start with the local paper. You can also try the Internet. Use Meetup, Facebook, LinkedIn, or any number of social media sites. Before committing, there are a few things you should look for.
- Do the writers give constructive feedback? If not, the negativity will hold you back.
- Do they give each person a chance to read? If time runs out, do those who didn’t read start the following meeting?
- Do they have all genres or only one or two? If you’re reading a crime thriller to a poetry group, or a graphic novel to a Christian group they may not provide the best feedback for your growth.
- Do they have anyone who is disruptive? If so, does the president or whoever is leading the meeting to take action?
Why you should join a writers group.
- A good writing group offers a frank and constructive critique within a positive framework. Our group prefers each writer bring extra copies to distribute. This gives you a better critique from each person in attendance.
- Group members can be a source for ideas or offer writing assignments and prompts. When we have a new member who is struggling, we encourage them to try something different such as writing prompts or a short story. Friendly competition with others can also motivate and inspire you to become a better writer.
- You can learn a lot from other writers from what they have read, how they write, and what they write about. One of our former members is an international bestseller who provided a wealth of knowledge.
- Getting tips and information from fellow members on publications, contests, conferences, workshops, and academic programs are one of the most valuable perks of a writing group. I write a ‘Tip of the Week’ with all sorts of writing information.
- One of the most rewarding benefits is the joy of sharing, collaborating, and forming friendships with fellow writers. Our merry band host several gatherings each year. Each of us bring a dish, snacks, or coffee—my favorite. We eat and mingle while sharing stories.
There are a lot of writer’s groups out there. The key is finding one that helps you grow. They say writing is a solitary art, but there’s nothing like hanging out with your artistic buddies.
James Glass achieved the rank of Command Master Chief before retiring after 22 years in the United States Navy. After retiring from the Navy, he exchanged his rifle for a pen. He and his family moved back to Florida. He’s been married for 22 years and has two children. James is also the President of the Panhandle Writer's Group.