Maybe you’re planning your writing schedule for the year, or you’re trying to rebound after a dry spell. Whatever your motivation, when you’re struggling to write more, joining a writing group can seem like adding another task to your already endless to-do list. But they can also be incredibly useful!
Should you join a writing group? And if you should, how do you find the right group for you?
First, decide what you want from a writing group. Do you need a supportive community, just a way of feeling less isolated while you work? Or do you need detailed feedback on your writing? Or are you looking for accountability as you develop good writing habits?
Let’s look at several types of writing groups so you can decide which one fits your needs.
The On-Site Writing Group: A Team for Habit Building
If you have trouble setting aside time to write and are feeling isolated, one of the simplest kinds of writing groups combines sociability with writing-habit formation. In this format, a group meets regularly to sit down and work for a set time.
Group members can do a brief check-in before or after their scheduled writing time, depending on whether members want to track their goals or simply serve as cheerleaders for each other. It doesn’t matter if writers are working on books, brochures, or blog posts, the group exists to offer support for everyone’s progress.
For participants, the point is to say that you’ll tackle a specific task for the agreed-on amount of time and then stick to it. You can use the time to reinforce good writing habits, see the value of working at a regular time of day, and measure your progress over the minutes and hours.
If you need more flexibility, you can meet up with your writing group online and use Zoom or just a group chat to create your writing workspace. Another advantage of this format is that you can find support from people outside of your field. All you need is fellow writers.
The Workshop: A Resource for Refining Your Ideas
Is your main struggle turning good ideas into publishable work? If that’s you, then you may need focused, expert writing support. A general writing group that includes aspiring novelists won’t offer the guidance you need.
Wendy Laura Belcher’s guide, Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks, suggests reaching out to colleagues and mentors to get writing feedback as you work toward an article draft, but all kinds of writers at every level can benefit from their colleagues’ insights.
Start by networking in your professional associations and conferences, spreading the word about what you’re working on and your interest in forming a working group. The advantage of creating your own workshop is that you only need a group of two or three people to get high-quality feedback. Be sure you seek out peers who can give thoughtful and constructive criticism and who won’t feed threatened or competitive in a group environment.
Another challenge is finding people who will respond to your work according to your timeline. If deadlines are tight and you can’t create a group quickly, you may need to skip this option and work with a developmental editor specializing in your area of writing. This kind of support doesn’t replace discussions of your ideas, but it will definitely move your process forward. A skilled editor will quickly identify issues that may be standing in the way of writing success.
The Accountability Group: A Structure for Measured Progress
The most structured writing group requires that members set measurable goals, usually for each week, and then hold each other accountable for meeting or revising those goals over a few months or longer. This group format is the jet engine of academic productivity, focusing entirely on regular, structured writing and on overcoming mental barriers. But because the focus is on structure, not content, any kind of writer can benefit from this kind of group.
You can find detailed instructions for creating good writing habits and for organizing your own accountability group in books like Paul Silvia’s How to Write a Lot (though he uses the term “Agraphia Group”).
If you can’t organize your own group, you can join a paid and professionally coached group at places like Academic Writing Club or through individual writing coaches.
Groups: A Final Thought
One of the best and worst things about groups is that they are shaped by the people who join them. Be open about what you want from any writing group you join, and don’t be afraid to move on if your needs change or if it isn’t what you expected. You can even set a firm end date by which you’ll disband (or continue, if you still find it fruitful!).
If you cultivate an open and supportive group atmosphere, you might find that it’s the one meeting that makes you feel less stressed and more energized about the work ahead of you.
About the author
Maria Snyder, PhD, is an editor and a translator from French and German. She admits to making mistakes in multiple languages! As a former tenured professor, she has researched, published, and taught in the US and Europe. She enjoys helping scholars bring their research to an English-speaking audience.