06 April 2013

The Write-In Versus the Writing Group - Ready? Fight!

I considered leaving this post for during November, as it would fit the theme of National Novel Writing Month, but with the start of Camp NaNoWriMo, maybe it best I do it now. I’m going to look at the two common forms of writer gatherings – a write-in and a writing group.

Let me start by discussing the similarities of both concepts. A write-in and a writing group are gatherings of writers.

Made for a short paragraph, huh? Well, that is because outside of that fact, things are different.

Write-ins are geared toward placing words onto the page. When discussions happen, they usually revolve around the present work of the person who starts the conversation. Maybe they got stuck on a plot point and need that nudge of other writerly minds to move forward. Or perhaps a character is trying to move away from the original plan of the plot and they need to discuss why. Snacks or rewards for achieving some set goal are also a possible staple of the write-in. Rarely have I seen a write-in that didn’t have chocolate or some equivalent. Yes, writers are gathered around a table, but everyone is lost in their own world (literally.)

Another way to think about a write-in is this: The environment is nurturing towards creation.

Writing groups are a different undertaking. They work with completed prose, trying to massage it for the best sheen and presentation. They discuss more, usually with fewer snacks. Everyone will be reading what is presented with an eye toward tightening or rewording. Some might have a portion of the gathering that is free write time, but that isn’t the focus of the meeting. Writing groups focus on improving the craft through editing and encouragement. Most writing groups have a specific focus, be it a certain genre or a certain length. Here, the gathering of writers around a table is traveling to each other’s worlds to pull the weeds.

Another way to look at writing groups is this: The environment is critical and geared toward improvement.

Why is it important for me to make this distinction? Frequently, after NaNoWriMo, writing groups will gain a glut of new recruits. They’ve just had this glorious experience with hundreds of other writers working together and they feel a writing group will be the same feel and flow. Then they find out how wrong that thought process is.

Before you decide to join a writing group, check them out, talk to their members. Find out what that group presents and how they operate. If things don’t feel right, don’t be afraid to speak out when the group meets. Be ready to accept criticism – and when you get it, don’t slink away.

Successful writers can operate in both environments, but one must know one’s tolerance for each before wading into the ring.

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