Today’s guest post is from Brooke McIntyre of Inked Voices, a site where writers workshop in small, private online groups.
Finding a writing group or partner is a lot like dating. There’s an element of searching and an element of matching. You’re looking for people you can share a piece of your creative self with, for people you want to spend time on, for people who can help you become a stronger writer—a tribe or community. So a good fit is important.
More than ever before, there are many options for finding a group, wherever you live and whatever your schedule. There are large groups and small, in person and online. And each group has its own feel.
Below I’ll share some things to consider when looking for those special someones. Then, I’ll share some places to look for partners.
What to Look For in a Partner or Group
One of the things I find most rewarding at Inked Voices is helping people match with writing groups. Here’s what I’ve learned about what makes for successful partners.
1. Shared Direction, Similar Stage
When writing partners share a direction—such as a goal to publish, a desire to keep up a consistent writing practice, or a hope to make writer friends—they’re often looking for the same sort of commitment to each other.
When writing partners have comparable experience writing, learning about craft, or publishing, they’re starting from a similar place. An experienced writer in a group of newbies may get frustrated. On the other hand, having a few new writers in a more experienced group is usually fine. Stage matters more for the group as a whole, and each person brings unique talents that may stand out more than their experience.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What is your writing experience?
- Do you have material to share now? Or are you looking for a group that will help motivate you through the finish?
- Do you have a consistent writing practice?
- Where do you want to go? Why are you interested in this group?
- What else are you doing to meet your writing goals? Do you read blogs like this one or books on craft? Have you taken classes or attended workshops?
Where you are today matters. But where you want to go and what you will do to get there is more important when looking for a match for the long haul.
2. A Workable Pace
Pace is a tricky one. It seems simple: how frequently do group members submit material or meet up? But really it’s about a balance of your own time and energy and balance within the group. The pace should move with enough oomph that you make progress. However, a fast pace can overwhelm; a slow one can feel unchallenging or like people are not writing. Either extreme leads to people quitting the group.
What’s your own writing pace? Many overestimate how much writing we can realistically produce, especially in the excitement of a joining a new group. I’ve been guilty. Plus you have to consider how much time you have to give thoughtful feedback. For both questions, err on the conservative side.
- Think about how much writing you produced this month and in the previous two months.
- Count on spending at least thirty minutes reading and commenting on each submission—more for longer ones. Ballpark the time commitment by multiplying time to critique by number of group members (don’t include yourself) by submissions per person per month.
- For in-person groups, pace equates to how often members meet. Consider how frequently all members of the group can make the logistics work.
Ideally, there is a balance between giving and receiving feedback. Sometimes people have spurts of creativity and produce more. Or life happens and they produce less. It often works out over the long haul. If members start to feel like they are critiquing but not writing, things have fallen out of alignment. Prepare to be flexible; a pace that works for an entire group all the time is unlikely.
3. People Enjoy the Writing and Feel Comfortable Critiquing It
Most of the time in a writing group is spent reading and giving feedback on other people’s work. It should be fun. Maybe you won’t love everything. But if you like most, you’ll enjoy the reading and become invested in the stories.
It’s hard to know that you’ll like the work until you actually see it, but there are some good proxies. What do you like to read? What are your favorite genres, books, and authors? When a writer says she likes Ursula K. Le Guin, certain people come to my mind. When I see a short fiction writer who likes Jhumpa Lahiri, another set of people comes to mind. Some groups assess this fit by requesting a sample of your writing.
I see many groups organize around genre, such as speculative fiction, free verse poetry, or creative nonfiction. Broader groups, like women writers, or “anything short,” are great for people who write and read across genres and who enjoy critiques from a variety of perspectives.
If you participate in a broader group, consider finding a buddy in your genre, especially if your genre has particular conventions or rules. Picture book writers think about page turns, mystery writers introduce the criminal early and quietly, romance ends with optimism. Your buddy can give you a nudge when you stray out of bounds.
So, How Do You Go About Actually Finding One of These Groups?
Writing associations are a great place to find groups or partners. Meet people in person through regional meet-and-greets, educational events, or by volunteering with your local chapter. Let your chapter know you are looking for a group; it will probably want to help.
Some associations have an online option to find partners. The Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has the “Blueboards,” a private forum where members can post the kind of group they are looking for. People reply, and then members may organize the group as they like. American Christian Fiction Writers has a large online critique community called Scribes, through which members often find smaller groups of critique partners. Similarly, The Women’s Fiction Writers Association has a critique group matching service which puts members together into groups of four. Romance Writers of America has an online critique partner matchup search for members. Members opt in to be searchable when setting up their profile. People interested in finding partners search subgenres and location for matches.
Conferences and Retreats
Conferences are a great way to stay energized, feel the power of a big community, and learn more about craft. They’re also a fantastic place to meet critique partners (thank you, Lisa, for starting a conversation with Elena and me at SCBWI national in 2014!) Conferences unite people with a common interest, be it shared genre, location, or both. Plus, conference-goers are often at the same stage. Many have at least one completed manuscript, and they may even be getting feedback on it at the conference.
Here are some ways to meet critique partners at conferences:
- When chatting with people, mention your interest in starting a group. Even if that person isn’t interested, he or she can connect others to you.
- Start a sign-up sheet (ask the conference organizer to make sure it’s okay first).
- Tell the organizers you’re looking for a group, and see if they have advice.
- Participate in critique roundtables. If you enjoy other people’s work, approach them afterward and see if they might like to exchange material.
Shaw Guides has a thorough listing of writing conferences. Writing associations and Facebook groups are also good sources for leads. Google brings up plenty of options: try typing in the name of your genre or region plus writers retreat or writers conference. Here is a write-up on some of the major retreats.
Depending on where you live and your genre, there may be writing groups organized through Meetup. These groups typically meet in person and are organized by one or more individuals in your area. To find a group, search terms likely to appear in a group’s description like writer, author, poet, writing, writing group, picture book, novel, or screenplay.
Check out each Meetup’s “About us” tab to find out the thrust of the group. There are workshop-style, networking, and “shut up and write” groups (where people clack away and share work time). Drill down into previous meetings, their location, and attendance. Some Meetups appear very large—here in New York, there are Meetups 300, 500 and 1,000 people strong—but actual participation is smaller. It could be a consistent core of ten people. Or you may find different people attend each time. Message the group admin with your questions or attend a meeting to find out whether it’s a fit.
Participate in a “Mo”
- NaNoWriMo is the big fish, but many other Mo’s have sprung up on the heels of its success. Beyond getting you writing, a Mo is a great way to find some community and maybe a long-term writing group.
- Camp NaNoWriMo takes place in April and July and is open to all writers, including poets, short fiction writers and children’s writers, in addition to novelists. Writers set their own 10,000-plus word count goal for the month and participate in a twelve-person online cabin. Cabinmates see each another’s word count progress, cheer successes, and commiserate when things get tough. If you love your cabin, get their contact information and keep working together after the event ends.
- NaPoWriMo challenges poets to produce thirty poems during National Poetry Month each April.
- Storystorm, held in January, began as a way for children’s writers to brainstorm picture book ideas but has since evolved to encompass a broader range of writing.
Other Networking Opportunities
To find local groups, try networking in your community. Chat up local bookstore staff or your savvy librarian. Scan community bulletin boards or post to your neighborhood listserv. There may also be regional networking groups in your area, like the New York City Writers Network, that focus on connecting writers. Ask around or search the name of your area plus writing community, writing group, or writers networking.
To network for online partners, try social media or check out some of the online forums. There are many Facebook groups for writers, some set up for the purpose of manuscript swaps. Join them to find a group of like-minded writers. After you’ve oriented to the group, post that you are looking for partners and go from there. To find a group, search within Facebook or see what Facebook suggests for you—this works best if you have writing information in your profile.
Use a Twitter event like #PitMad or Dan Koboldt’s #SFFPit (for science fiction and fantasy writers) to look for partners. If you like the person’s pitch, reach out to the author and start a conversation.
Finally, there are many online forums for writers to check out for networking and critique, including Absolute Write, The Women’s Fiction Writers Association’s Critique Forum Facebook group, The Mystery Writers Forum, and myWritersCircle.
Online Critique Sites
Many online critique sites use technology, such as inline commenting, critique deadlines, private discussion boards, notifications, and writer profiles, to enhance the writing group process. Most of these sites are private to protect individuals’ work. Writers can participate in site-wide critique communities, large private groups, or small ones, depending on the site.
Online groups typically run on a credits or points system, where credits are used to submit work and earned for giving critiques. Sometimes, the credits system also works in conjunction with a queue system (basically, your submission waits in line for its turn).
Critique sites generally attract serious writers interested in improving their craft. Check out the technology and community to see if it’s a fit for you.
All Poetry is a writing community for poets. Poets may post their work to the sitewide community for comment, and premium members can start their own writing critique groups. Basic memberships are free, silver are $5.95/month, and gold are $14.95/month. Read more about memberships.
Critique Circle is an established writing community that uses a queue system. Members use credits to submit work to the queue and receive credits for stories they critique. New members have access to a separate newbies queue for their first few submissions as they learn the ropes. Premium members can create private critique groups with their own queue, ideal for groups using the site. There are basic, premium and premium gold memberships, each with its own benefits. Premium memberships are $10/month, $34/6 months or $49/year. Preview the site by checking out their YouTube tutorials.
Critique.org is the parent site of the well-known Critters.org site, which offers critique for science fiction, fantasy, and horror writers. Critique.org evolved from Critters to spread its popular format to other genres, including literary fiction, mystery, romance, and more. Critique.org genre groups are large and operate via email based on a queue system. When a writer’s submission reaches the top of the queue—usually about a month—the manuscript is emailed to the group for feedback. Members are expected to critique approximately one manuscript per week. The site is free and runs on donations.
Inked Voices is a site for writers looking for smaller critique groups and for pre-existing groups looking for a place to run their writing group online. It includes private, invitation-based groups, video lectures on craft, and a sitewide forum. Members search individual or group profiles to find partners and also get personal assistance matching. I also periodically facilitate three-month peer workshops geared towards members new to writing groups or still looking for the right fit. Memberships are $10/month, $75/year (discounts for pre-existing groups). Check out the demo on our homepage or see a screenshot tour.
The Next Big Writer offers a variety of private and public writing groups of varying genres and sizes, as well as online writing classes and an annual contest. Groups can be public or private and each can elect whether to use the site’s points system. Authors control who can see their work, whether site connections, group members, or a broader audience. Basic memberships are free and include participation in one group, while premium memberships allow participation in up to ten groups. Premium memberships are $8.95/month, $21.95/quarter or $69.95/year. See a demo on their About Us page.
Scribophile is a critique community with groups, contests, a helpful blog, and a discussion forum. Writers submit work to the site-wide community or to private groups using points. Either way, work is private to the site. Groups are generally larger and genre-focused and there are many options available. Premium members get additional tools for formatting documents and showcasing their work, and can post more than two works at a time. Free basic memberships. Premium memberships are $9/month or $65/year. Read their FAQ.
Writing.com is a large community of online writers with a sitewide community for critique, the ability to join and create groups, and numerous contests. Members can store their manuscripts in an online portfolio and can control privacy of their submissions, whether private to the site or publicly viewable. There are five levels of membership, including a free plan.
Some of the big publishers also have online communities. These sites are generally more about getting reviews and the possibility of publisher discovery. The highest-rated submissions get read by the publishers, sometimes leading to manuscript requests and/or book deals.
Wattpad is similar to the sites above, but is not affiliated with a particular house. Wattpad writers often post their work in chapters, and some have built large reader followings in the process, leading to book deals for some members.
Email and WordPress Groups
Many email writing groups operate through Yahoo Groups. Try several searches to get a list of candidates to explore.
Hunt for other email and WordPress groups by Googling; scan beyond the first few pages of results. Internet Writing Workshop members join a critique list for manuscript exchange; participation requirements are listed on the site. The Desk Drawer is an email group that shares submissions and critique on writing exercises posted each week. NovelPro is for serious writers who have completed a 60,000+ word novel. Swirl and Swing is a private WordPress-based critique group for poets.
There are many paths to a writing group. Prepare to put in some elbow grease into your search. See what strikes you and give it a try. If it’s a fail, try again. It usually takes some persistence to find the right group. But once you do, it’s gold.