There is a myth of the writer sitting alone in a dark room with a typewriter, working on their elusive novel from dusk until dawn. They never share it with anyone until one day it is miraculously published and out on the shelves.
And that’s all it is, a myth.
Writing is social.
On a totally academic level you can say that you will have a social relationship with your readers as you convey a story to them ultimately creating a discourse between them and your published work, but your writing group comes in before that.
Your writing group is made of trusted writers, not just friends and family. They will see your work at all stages-from its shitty first draft to the bound copy at your local book store.
Writing groups are communities. They are there to support your writing journey at every step and should celebrate you and your work when you succeed or fail. They will be the only people in your lives who understand the hardwork it takes to accomplish each step.
First, let’s discuss what makes a good writing group. Your writing group should have experience related to what you’re writing, be active, and know how to give a contructive workshop.
Experience related to what you’re writing
Unlike writers of adult literature, you’ll find that children’s writers often write across the spectrum, both in age categories and in genre, and are encouraged to do so. A YA author might put out a middle grade series or even start a picture book after they’ve published their first YA novel, and vice versa. But even though we create on the spectrum, while you are drafting age specific content, you will want to surround yourself with writers who are also writing in that age category. Remember the age categories are:
- Board books: Newborn to age 3
- Picture books: Ages 3–8
- Early, leveled readers: Ages 5–9
- First chapter books: Ages 6–9 or 7–10
- Middle-grade books: Ages 7-9 or 8–12
- Young adult (YA) novels: Ages 12 and up or 14 and up
And each of these age categories have overlaps with the categories above and below them. Some, like middle grade and young adult, are split into upper and lower ranges.
Knowledge of these age ranges and the voices and content that go in them is key for critique groups. Otherwise, you run into the age old:
This is an awkward two way street in children’s literature. If you’ve never written a picture book in your life, you aren’t going to give great feedback. The same goes for middle grade and young adult. If you or writing group don’t write for these age ranges, their feedback is going to be half hearted hogwash.
This does not, however, apply to genre. Remeber YA, middle grade, chapter books, and picture books are not genres of children’s fiction. They are age categories.
Some writing groups focus on genres and subgenres. These may be good places for you to bounce ideas around to vet whether or not your genre fiction sounds new and improved.
A good critique group is active and respectful of your space and time. You should be able to get and give feedback without needing constant reminders and without feeling guilted into looking at pieces while you’re at your day job.
Writing Groups are for more than just getting feedback on your written work. They are a place to get comfortable with your work, to share ideas, discuss craft, and socialize. Which is hard to do if getting feedback and responses is akin to pulling teeth.
Make sure your group has a schedule to meet, talk, and that they’re easy to get in touch with. A good time frame is one month. Workshopping week to week can get hectic and given that most people have day jobs that are not writing, a weekly schedule is almost impossible.
But, anything longer than a month is seriously inconvienent when you’re trying to finish a book, no matter its length. While you might not be on deadline before you begin querying, you still have a timeline and goals.
Know how to give constructive feedback
It is hard to talk about work to people who are not writers. It’s not they’re fault, it’s just not their life. So as you begin to throw your ideas toward them, you might be greeted with
Which ultimately doesn’t help you.
In a good critique group, your ideas will get picked apart. Your fellow writers will tell you something isn’t working, that it feels derivative, or poke large holes in your plot. These are things you need to hear and you should feel comfortable with the people you hear them from.
They’ll also tell you when something is genuinely a strong piece of writing.
One thing to keep in mind while you search for a group, whether you do it by searching on Google or take a look at the flyers at your local coffee shop, is that your group should work for you. It should be a place you feel safe sharing your work and asking questions.
It should also be a place you feel that your work is safe.
It’s true, that you cannot copyright an idea, but theft of intellectual property happens often in writing circles. Many people say “two writers will not write the same idea the same way,” but that doesn’t mean that something wasn’t taken from you. At the very least, your writing group should be able to protect your written word. If they have nothing and naively believe that this sort of this doesn’t happen than I strongly advise you to look for a different group.