Guest post: Tips for Finding a Writers’ Group That’s Right for You by Carmen Brettel

From today onwards (for a while at least, because I’m getting so many enquiries) I’ll be posting two guest blog items on a Sunday evening and the first of tonight’s double-bill is on the topic of writing groups, and brought to you by online writer Carmen Brettel.

Tips for Finding a Writers’ Group That’s Right for You

A writers’ group is a valuable tool for every writer. A good writers’ group can offer feedback to make your work better, support to help you when you are facing writer’s block or other obstacles, and information when you have questions such as how to find out how to land an agent or submit a query.

However, if you don’t know a lot of other writers, or if you aren’t enrolled in a writing program, it may be difficult for you to find a writers’ group to join. Here are a few tips for how you can find a writers’ group that’s right for you:

Visit Local Colleges

Even if there is no formal creative writing program at one of your local colleges, you will be sure to find plenty of students who are interested in writing. Many are sure to be interested in forming a writers’ group or to already belong to one.

Check out campus bulletin boards or online forums for groups that are already going, or post your own notice to get a group started. Student groups are a good place to start if you are just starting out as a writer or if your target audience is students.

Check the Library

The library is a great community resource. Like colleges, libraries host bulletin boards that advertise local activities and resources, like citizen writers’ groups. You can connect with a diverse group of people through the local library, which may be both a blessing and a curse. You may benefit from meeting up with skilled writers, or you may find that the people you connect with don’t have complementary styles or approaches to writing as you do.

Attend a meeting or two of a couple of groups (if available) to get a sense of what they’re like before you commit to one. That way you can make sure the group fits your personality and writing needs.

Try Meetup.Com

Meetup.com is a great tool that connects people in your community based on similar interests. Just search for “writing” or “writer” and you’ll like find several groups in your area that bring together writers. Some will narrow the focus even more, bringing together writers of science fiction or screenwriters specifically.

Again, try out a group or two before you commit to attending one regularly. If you can’t find a group in your area — or you can’t find one that fits your needs — go ahead and use the site to start your own.

Search Online

If you can’t find a group that meets where you live (or you can’t find one that you like), there are plenty of groups that meet online. Try searching the forums of your favorite writing sites and checking the classified listings. Post a message asking other writers to tell you about their favorite online groups.

Of course, if you can’t find a recommendation for a group you like, you can always use these forums to reach out to other writers and form your own group. There are no shortage of writers’ sites or writers that frequent them, so there are plenty of opportunities to connect with other writers online.

Finding a writers’ group can help you to improve your writing by getting valuable feedback on your work, encouraging you when you hit a stumbling block, and guiding you toward useful resources. These are just a few of the ways that you can find writers’ groups in your area or online.

Do you belong to a writers’ group? Tell us how you found your group in the comments!

Yes, please do. I run two and belong to two others, I hearty recommend them (and I belong to three Meetup groups!). You can read an article I wrote a while back about how Meetup came about. Thank you, Carmen.

Carmen Brettel is a writer and manager for Studentgrants.org, where she has recently been researching fine education grants. In her spare time, Carmen enjoys gardening and volunteering at animal shelters.

***

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

‘How to Eat (or write) a Book: Probing the Pros and Problems of Prologues’ by urban fantasy author Lauren Grimley follows later this evening, then the blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with poet Jeanne Buesser – the five hundred and thirty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything. You can contact me and find me on the internetview my Books and I also have a blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

Writing Groups – joining or running

Tonight’s ‘guest’ blog post, on the topic of writing groups, is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey.

As Lauren Bailey (no relation) said in her guest blog on Tuesday, every author should have a second opinion. No-one should submit or self-publish their own writing without having someone else, ideally another writer, at the very least a reader, hear or read it. I prefer the latter, especially when equipped with a red pen (not sure why but red holds a certain power), and those who have listened to (or been the subjects of) my ‘red pen’ podcasts will know that I’m firm but fair.

Unless you live with someone who can give that kind of feedback, the chances are that you’ll have to go further afield. And where better to start, if you live in the UK, than the National Association of Writers’ Groups (NAWG). Click on ‘Writing Group Directory’, pick your area of the country and find the nearest meeting to you. Before you leave the site, you might like to read one or two of their bi-monthly ‘Link’ magazines (I’ve been in a few :)). It’ll give you a feel for what goes on in the groups. If you live in the US there’s a great list here, for Canada there’s a page of allsorts and South Australia click here (Google wasn’t very helpful with Europe – I guess it’s too big).

So you’re ready for your first meeting. You have pens (always advisable to have more than one) and paper, and perhaps something to read out, if you’re feeling brave.

You’re nervous. You’re bound to be. You’ve either never written anything before and you’re convinced that you’ll be no good, or you’re ready to go with your first ever creation and are convinced… you get the idea. Just remember that we were all learner drivers once (those of us who drive anyway).

The group will be kind to you, you can listen to others’ writing, and don’t be put off by that. If it’s good, the chances are they’ll have been writing for years and you’ll be just as good (if not better) with practice. And that’s what writing boils down to; learning as you go along and actually writing something. You can’t edit a blank page.

I run a group and belong to two others (one of which I chair), the other I (sort of) jointly lead. The latter, Northampton Literature Group’s Writing Circle (NLG), meets once a month (the first Tuesday night), the others fortnightly… strangely all 7.30pm to 9.30pm although we invariably overrun.

The ideal format

You naturally want a writing group to teach you something, you want to write and you want to hear others’ writing.

The fortnightly Thursday night group (Northampton Writers Group (NWG)) is predominantly critique only. We write on the spot occasionally but we usually take it in turns to read out our latest projects, with some of us making notes (some, me, more than others). The fortnights alternate between a specific topic (poetry, 10-minute play, flash fiction etc) and free manuscript, these usually being short stories, autobiography, novel extract and poetry. The monthly group is a mix of writing and reading homework, usually 500 words on a specific theme, with the Chair of the Group, Alan Bryan, leading the first half and me the second.

My writing group is split into two with a fortnightly critique-only and fortnightly writing workshop where I set three or four 10-15 minute exercises. Critique in the workshop session is minimal and the pieces, like the NLG, are meant to be starters to continue at home, then brought to the critique groups if desired.

Running your own group

If there’s no group near you (or you don’t like the ones that are!) and you know a few people who write or would like to write, you could always start your own. You don’t have to hire a hall – you could either run it at your house or take it in turns. I charge per person £1 for refreshments so I don’t make a profit (especially in winter when I have the heating turned up!) but it’s not about that, is it. It’s about sharing your work with others, helping them when you have something constructive to say, congratulating (and being congratulated) when something’s published, commiserated if you get nowhere in a writing competition, having a moan about an editor’s rejection of your characters and being there for each other. But most of all, it gets you in your seat and gets you writing!

Thank you… er, me! 🙂

When not at her day job (a sore point – she’s been trying to escape since October!), Morgen Bailey runs a (this) ticking-over nicely (about 200+ visitors a day) blog which, like her, is consumed by the topic of writing. She shares her house in Northampton, England with an 11-year-old Jack Russell / Cairn cross who is used to her waving her arms about (as she tests how her characters do something) or clapping when she’s written a particularly wonderful line. Best with deadlines, she loves projects like NaNoWriMo and StoryADay (producing three novels / four and a bit collections of short stories between them) because she’s like a dog with a clichéd bone… give her a challenge and she’ll do her damnedest to get it done… sometimes with just minutes to spare. She’s sold to Woman’s Weekly, rejected by them and others, accepted by NAWG for their ‘Link’ magazine and other online establishments, and has two $1.49 eBooks (a 31-story anthology and a writer’s block workbook) and free eShorts available via Smashwords, Sony Reader Store, Barnes & Noble, iTunes Bookstore and Kobo, but once the day job is dust she plans to edit her four and a bit novels, let her editor rip them apart, then head for Amazon KDP and a bread and water lifestyle that is (often) that of a writer… and she can think of nothing more thrilling. 🙂 Oh, and she has a new forum at http://morgenbailey.freeforums.org.

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with poet and literary fiction author Serge Lecomte – the three hundred and third of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

Morgen Bailey’s Writing Forum

I’m delighted to announce that I created ‘Morgen Bailey’s Writing Forum’ today, Sunday 19th February.

So it’s very new and has loads of subjects waiting for people to talk about them (I’ve only posted one topic in the ‘Writing Groups’ forum so far).

If you have something to say, please do pop by and leave your comment. You will (I think!) have to register but it’s free and hopefully we can start building, and enjoying, a writing community.

As well as the discussion area there’s a chatroom and calendar (fairly bare at the moment but I will be filling it). There’s even an arcade if your work-in-progress is getting too much and you want to zap something! 🙂

The link is http://morgenbailey.freeforums.org (clicking on the picture below works too) and I shall pop in regularly to assist or give my opinion. 🙂

Extract from BWT podcast episode 7 (Oct 2010) – short story markets

Most writers do write with a view to submitting their work and as this podcast comes from the UK, I talk about British outlets, starting with magazines. There used to be a glut of opportunities for short story writers but many, such as Bella, Best, Woman’s Own and Woman, have stopped including fiction leaving the following staple weekly magazines:

  • My Weekly – usually has 2-3 short stories and sometimes a serial, and book club. At the moment however, if you’ve not been published by them they are unlikely to accept your story.
  • Take a Break – a single page twist or sting in the tale short story. The rest of the magazine contains mainly non-fiction/puzzles.
  • Woman’s Weekly – Similar to My Weekly it usually has a mixture of stories and serials.
  • ‘The Weekly News’ – a newspaper style weekly which contains 3 stories, one short and two longer over a 2-page spread. The good thing about the Weekly News is that it is family targeted so many of the leading characters are male which is unusual in this market. They also prefer email submissions.
  • Originating in Scotland, People’s Friend – probably the most famous and long-running short story magazine. They are part of the DC Thomson group which also makes ‘My Weekly’ and ‘The Weekly News’. DC Thomson’s website is www.dcthomson.co.uk.
  • The Lady used to have one (usually 2-page) short story but have shelved it for now other than the occasional piece by already well-known authors.

Monthly (ish)

  • Candis – a monthly A5-sized magazine targeted at older rather than young readers. Have one story of usually 2-3 pages, usually no more than 2000 words”. They are a subscription-only magazine and 10% of their sales go to ‘health-related charities’ (including British Heart Foundation and Marie Curie Cancer Care). Their website is www.candis.co.uk.
  • Good Housekeeping – packed full of household tips, articles, topical debates and usually a short story, often by famous authors. Their website (www.goodhousekeeping.co.uk) has a great ‘Books’ section which includes reviews, extracts and literary news.
  • Take A Break ‘Fiction Feast’ – a fantastic magazine and usually contains tales with twists, love stories and spine chillers. The main content is stories there are also crosswords and puzzles. You can buy it in the  shops or subscribe via www.takeabreak.co.uk which is what I did.
  • Another over the counter or subscription magazine is Woman’s Weekly’s Fiction Specials which come out roughly every 6 weeks. They used to take 60 word stories (and published one of mine back in 2006) and reader poetry but stopped just now just publish 2 or 3 pieces of fiction.

Quarterly

  • Granta – although described as a magazine it’s more of a paperback publication. First launched in 1979 they are currently on edition no. 110 and I have about half of them; which like all my other books, are waiting to be read. They suit me because you can dip into them and tend to read more anthologies or novellas than novels. Their website is www.granta.com where you can, amongst other things, subscribe to the magazine. One of their current offers is £30 a year for four editions with free access to their online archive.

Yearly

My Weekly, People’s Friend and Yours produce yearly annuals. The inside format is very similar to their magazines but in A5 hardback covers and usually available before Christmas at around the £6-£7. I have two by Mills & Boon (2007 and 2008) which I think are the only ones they’ve produced as that’s all Amazon shows.

Before submitting it’s always advisable to contact the relevant magazine for their up-to-date guidelines so you don’t waste your and, more importantly, the magazine’s time. Writer Sue Moorcroft (who I interviewed in special episodes 2 and 3 – http://www.suemoorcroft.com) advises not to submit to more than 3 magazines at once and definitely to submit different stories to each. You’d need to then wait for sufficient amount of time (in some cases up to 6 months) to have elapsed before sending the story elsewhere. I’ve found that People’s Friend and Take a Break are the quickest (especially with rejections). The guidelines should say how long your piece can be, subjects to avoid etc. People’s Friend contains the most stories and is probably the gentlest of the magazines whereas Take a Break is towards the other end of the spectrum and they love clever twists. A ‘must’ is to buy two or three recent/current issues of the magazine and see what stories they are publishing. Sue has also suggested reading the rest of the magazine you can also see what their audience is, i.e. if they advertise stair lifts and bathing aids then you wouldn’t necessarily want to write a story about teenage angst…unless perhaps a parent or grandparent is also featured to give them some wisdom. Joanna Barnden (who I interviewed in special episode 4 – http://www.joannabarnden.co.uk) did say they’re looking for younger characters but again it has to be a gentle story.

Another interesting point to remember is that magazines often work 3-6 months ahead of schedule so if you have a Christmas story it would be advisable to send it mid/late summer rather than in November, so now would be a good time to submit Easter, Spring or even summer stories. It does help not to be too specific: obviously there’s a narrower market for Easter stories than say, Spring but birthdays are always popular as everyone has them and they happen every day. Good luck and do let me know how you get on.

Extract from BWT podcast episode 7 (Oct 2010) – short stories overview

The seventh episode of my Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 4th October 2010 and the content has never before been available other than website links on my website (www.morgenbailey.com) so I hope you find this information useful.

In the first six episodes (see earlier blog posts), I covered ‘show not tell’, the five senses, repetition, points of view, tenses, dialogue, characters and crime and poetry. This podcast had a focus on short stories.

Short stories range from as little as 6 words to around 7,000 words (about 30 pages) and cover all genres. Most competitions and magazines usually look for 1,000 to 3,000 words. There’s an interesting article by Susan J Letham on the Write 101 website (www.write101.com/lethamcount.htm) which includes a trick for word counting with a calculator, although most word processing software will have a counter as you type.

The most famous 6-word story is Ernest Hemingway’s ‘For Sale: Baby Shoes Never Worn’ – despite being so few words it tells us a sad story. See if you can write your own. I came up with a couple off the cuff…: ‘Old dog, old tricks, old love.’ and ‘Birthday arrived, very excited, everyone forgot’. They sound like story taglines and if you are writing a novel, it’s a great way of practicing to summarise your story. If you are planning on submitting to agents then you’ll need to write a synopsis (or more than one – every agent will have their own guidelines so it’s worth practicing a few different lengths for instance a one-page or two-page synopsis) and you can do this at any stage. I’d done mine once the books were written because, if you’re anything like me, you’ll know that the story can have a habit of going in a different direction to the way planned before you started. So, if you’re planning your NaNoWriMo novel – the National Novel Writing Month November yearly project I mentioned in episode 1 – you could start practicing your synopses now. It may even help you with plotting your novel and certainly wouldn’t be a waste of time.