Writing Groups: How to Talk to Other Writers

by Robin Lovett
published in Community

Picture this: You finally sit down to write your first novel. You’ve been brainstorming it for years, since childhood really, and thinking about it has taken over your life. It gnaws at you , creeps down your fingertips and through your pores until you have no choice but to sit down and write it. You’re eating and sleeping and breathing this novel. It’s driving your family and friends insane because it’s all you want to talk about.

But none of them understand. The non-writers in your life just don’t get why you’re willing to lose sleep toiling over something that isn’t making you any money. You become obsessed with finding someone to talk to about your novel. So you think, I need to meet other writers.

The First Time You Try a Writing Group

You’re nervous. You know they’re going to ask, “What do you write?” And you have no idea what you to say. How do you fit a description of something that’s claimed your heart and soul into a conversation? You don’t know what to call it. It has no title. You don’t know what genre it is. If they ask about your premise, it’ll be a hodgepodge of things you can’t even make sense of, let alone a stranger.

But you summon courage because you’re certain these people will understand. They’re other writers; of course they’ll want to hear about your book. Right?

What do you say?

At the first meeting, you shake a couple of hands, get a few welcomes, and then comes the infamous question: “What do you write?” Not knowing what to say, words tumble from your mouth, “It started out as this, and then it changed to this, but now I don’t know what it is. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be this because it’s inspired by this, and I’m writing it because it means so much to me. And it’s really genre bending because it’s not like anything else that’s ever been written…blah, blah, blah.” And while you’re talking, the other person’s eyes are growing dimmer and dimmer. You’re losing their attention but you don’t now how to stop it, so you keep talking.
Someone interrupts. Boom, just like that, the moment is over. The one time you thought someone would listen leaves you as disappointed as all the others.

Listen to the Other Writers

I’ve seen many people come to their first meeting to vent about their novels. I did it. And so many others never come back.

New writers often mistake what a writing group is for. Yes, it’s for talking about your novel, but it’s about so much more. It’s about dialogue. It’s about meeting other people who are driven by the same invisible force as you, that unspeakable drive to see your imagination on the page. It’s about creating a support group for the long haul, from brainstorming to publishing and everything in between. Most of all, it’s about learning. There’s nowhere better to learn how to write than among other writers.

So here’s how we resurrect that awful moment. Let’s try again.

“What do you write?”

Try for the shortest answer, “I think it might be this, but I’m not sure.” The end. One sentence. Very likely, the other person will pour out some advice, personal experience, or point you towards someone in the group who can help.

And you’ll learn the real reason you came to the group: to talk and listen to other writers.

Ask the Other Person, “What do you write?”

Writing groups are about building relationships.

No, I don’t mean the dating kind. Do not ask someone to go on a date with you when you’re at a writers group meeting. Yes, it would be cool to meet someone special who is also a writer, but if you do this, you will likely be ostracized by the group. Don’t do it.

Instead, hear what the seasoned group members have to say. They most likely know more than you. Writing groups are for learning, not just talking. Get to know the group dynamic. There are many different kinds of groups. Spend the first couple of meetings observing. Where are the others writers in their process? Which writers do you connect with on a personal level? Then start a discussion about the troubles you’re having with your novel, rather than talking at someone. It creates an opportunity for others to learn as well as you. Be a sponge. Soak it up. Your writing will thank you for it by becoming the best it can be. And the story you’ve been dreaming about for years is worth it.

I know I’m not the only one with writing group stories. Share some of yours. What experiences did you have joining your first writing group?

Robin Lovett, also known as S.A. Lovett, writes contemporary romance, and her debut novel, Racing To You, will be released July of 2016. She is represented by Rachel Brooks of the L. Perkins Agency and has a forthcoming series releasing with SMP Swerve in the summer of 2017.

She writes romance to avoid the more unsavory things in life, like day jobs and housework. To feed her coffee and chocolate addictions, she loves overdosing on mochas. When not writing with her cat, you can find her somewhere in the outdoors with a laptop in her bag. Feel free to chat with her on Twitter.

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