What are the Benefits?
It depends. The most complete answers I give my clients in my day job as an online optimization consultant often start with, “it depends.” What you want out of your writing has a lot to do with what you’ll gain by joining a writing group.
Do you write for fun, as a creative outlet? Or do you want to get published?
Writing for Enjoyment
If you write strictly for the enjoyment of it, one benefit you’ll find in a writer’s group is friendship among others with similar interests. Hobbyists, from photographers to sports fans enjoy getting together with those who like the same things, and writing is no exception. You’ll share books you like and writing you’re doing with those like you. That alone may be enough reason for you to join a writing group.
Keeping You Motivated
We’re lazy. Humans, left to lounge in our comfort zone, seldom achieve much. Life happens. The dishes need washing. Kids need tending. And your favorite TV show won’t watch itself, now will it? Both time wasters and good things alike get in the way of writing. Some can’t or shouldn’t be avoided. But if you want the motivation to carve out even a half hour here and there when you have time, a writing group can help you spend the time writing. You encourage each other. If you know you’ll need to account for whether you wrote or not, or if you are scheduled to read something to the group that you wrote, this positive “peer pressure” can motivate you to make the time for writing.
And you will need to make the time for writing, if it’s important to you. When I tell my friends that I’m a writer, I often hear, “Oh, I could never find the time to write.” Few of us find the time to write. We make the time to write.
Improving Your Work
If you’re serious about making your work the best it can be, with the goal of getting published, a critique group is critical. Why? Simple. You’re often too close to your work to have an unbiased viewpoint of your work. If something doesn’t make sense, you may not discover it, because you know far more about the story than your reader, and you may not have clearly conveyed it on paper the way you understand it in your mind.
Different writers have different strengths. Some will be great at plotting, others at finding inconsistencies, while others know grammar rules like a school teacher. Each writer in a group brings their own unique talents, background, and life lessons. You can benefit from all of these. For example, in our writer’s group, we have a man who serves part-time in the National Guard. He can find problems with out stories related to military issues, such as chain of command, that the rest of us would not.
Increase Your Chances of Getting Published
Studies show that if you regularly participate in an active critique group, you have a much greater chance of getting published than if you’re going it alone. Famous writers such as Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were well-known for making their work better by bouncing their work off of other writers, but we can find more modern examples as well.
For example, Brandon Sanderson broke out as a writer along with others from his writing group, such as Dan Wells, Robison Wells, and Howard Taylor. Simply put, you grow your skills as a group far better than you could do so on your own.
Finding a Writing Group
So, where do you find a writing group? If you’re taking a creative writing class, just ask your classmates if they’re part of a writing group. If not, see if others in the class are interested and start your own.
Writing conventions are another good place to seek other writers who want to improve their work. Some conventions will even have classes dedicated to running a good writing group, and you can often find others seeking to get together with other writers.
Do a quick search online, and you’ll find local writing groups. You’ll also find many opportunities to join a remote writing group, where you use technology like Google Hangouts to conference not only by voice, but also with video.
You’ll find many options out there to work with other writers to improve your work and to motivate you to keep writing. Just make sure that before you sign up, you know what you’re trying to accomplish and find a group with similar goals who are willing to make and keep a commitment to dedicate time to honing their craft.