In the last several weeks I've heard some horror stories about new writers and their interactions with writers groups. With the advent of social media like Meet Up, FaceBook, LinkedIn, and a dozen more online spaces, finding writers groups has become significantly easier. Unfortunately, it has also become significantly easier for anyone, no matter their credentials, to start a writers group. With this in mind, if you're a newbie and you're seeking a writers community or writers group to join, here are some tips:
1. Start with a well reputed site like Poets and Writers www.pw.org They have a fantastic search engine for finding writers conferences, workshops, schools, and such. Oftentimes other groups may be mentioned on the sites of the conferences, workshops, schools and such. This implies a certain level of professionalism, which is what you want.
2. If you find a group via Meet Up or FaceBook, look for the leader's credentials. If the person hasn't published, been an editor, gone to an MFA or doctorate program, or had some other significant credentials, seriously think about NOT joining this group. There are so many reputable writers groups available for both free and at a charge (depending on what you're looking for) why bother with a group that is being led by someone without credentials?
3. If you submit work and the leader's criticism isn't based in the writing craft (story arc, characterization, environment, theme, tone, etc) or if the leader rewrites your piece, run the other way and don't look back.
4. If the group leader doesn't manage the room. Meaning: if the group leader doesn't keep members on target in terms of focusing on craft, if the leader doesn't maintain a healthy environment for giving and receiving criticism, or if the group leader seems to be encouraging negative commentary, then I suggest approaching the group leader about your concerns in private. If you feel as though your concerns aren't addressed in the future, then consider finding another group.
5. Make sure you join a group that writes in a similar vein as you or a workshop leader who is well versed in your genre. If you are a mystery writer and you join a romance writers group, then you're going to get some feedback that won't make sense, for good reason. Mysteries and romances have very specific structures that are very different. Anecdote: A dear friend had been told that her writing was romance, so she joined RWA and for two years received feedback on her work that confused her. She then joined a cross genre writers organization, www.pennwriters.org, and discovered that she was a commercial fiction writer, not a romance writer. Suddenly much of the feedback she had received made sense because the feedback was based on the context of her writing in romance and it also made sense why she didn't understand or agree with it, because she wasn't writing romances.
I hope these tips help.
Additional thoughts/questions are more than welcomed.