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Tools of the Trade – Finding Writing Partners and Writing Groups

Updated: 13 hours ago

This week in my office, a student appeared showing me the progress they’ve made on their video game script. I do not write video games. I have never even seen a video game script. However, this is a student, and if they want to talk about writing, I am happy to help them. 

But because this is an area where I am limited, I suggested they do the scariest thing of all – find a writing partner or workshop group. 


Writing partners, writing groups, workshops, retreats … these are all ways to take solo writers and bring them together. It’s like a writer’s playdate. It’s a great way to get feedback and advice, pick up on tips and tricks, and just speak the common language that writers have. 


A notebook and a print from a manuscript with notes scribbled on it.
Workshop feedback

I am not great at connecting with other writers. I like workshops and I have had writing partners, but I am not great at reaching out to others – even writers – with open arms and willingly ask them to tear this thing I have worked on for a long time down to the bone. I’m a little sensitive about it. I am also not great at going into social media spaces and introducing myself like it’s the first day of school. 


Other writers are fantastic at this. They can log into Facebook and connect to other writers – often not only finding good groups to work in, but using that space to connect with publishers, agents, and other writers who can offer them a leg up or an opportunity. Same thing in public spaces. I’ve seen writers at AWP and other conventions mingle and socialize with ease. I have writer friends who go to pitch events and spend the whole day telling agents why they should take a chance on their manuscript. 


I am not on Discord. I am not on Facebook. I will post occasionally on Instagram or Twitter, but where I used to feel like these spaces were fun and full of interesting people to talk to, I don’t feel that way anymore. I much prefer to meet up with people face to face.


But even in person, I feel vulnerable in those spaces. At times, I feel like I might run out of the room like my hair is on fire. I once tried to meet a local group at a restaurant. Because the hostess could not tell me if they were in fact a group of writers meeting to chat about their craft, I saw the big table of people and did the opposite of what I would tell my children and students to do – just go up and ask someone. Instead, I walked out to my car and cried. It was like being in high school all over again – approaching the cool kids at their table in the cafeteria. The inner 15 year old inside of me was worried they’d be pants and ran in the other direction instead. 


However, I am excellent at working with someone one-on-one, which is where having a writing partner is key for me. And I have been fortunate to work with excellent writing partners. Finding a writing partner is a little tricky because “where do they come from?”. I am one of those people who have seen the teacher appear when I was ready, so many of my partners came into my life as part of a confluence of events. One was an old friend from college whom I reconnected with then I tried to sell them advertising. We both revealed we were working on novels and agreed to meet for coffee. Others have been people whom I connected with in classes or workshops. I’d send an email and ask if they want to meet for coffee. This is my move because I love coffee, and if they blow me off, I can connect to the WiFi and work on something else instead. 


But in the face of not having a writing partner, I will occasionally dip into a local writers group. The great thing about writers groups is anyone can join. The tricky thing about writers groups is anyone can join. Usually local writers groups are held at the local library. They cannot exclude anyone. Others I have found on Meetup and were held at a local coffee shop. Again, they cannot exclude anyone. 


I’ve been in wonderful, supportive workshop groups and I have been in toxic workshop groups. And what I learned after I experienced some really bad workshops is that change happens from within. I couldn’t always blame the jerks in the group when I realized that I was also being a jerk. I realized that it was up to me to bring the positive vibes. 


Here are my tips for developing a positive writing group experience

  1. Know this is not a space for you to show off. Writers love to show off. They want to show off their skills, but some people like to show off by showing up someone else in the group. When giving criticism, it’s not the opportunity for you to try out your jokes or condescending remarks. Be clear. Be direct. Be kind.

  2. Don’t talk back. This is tough. I have broken this rule. The hardest part of receiving a critique is listening to people talk about something you have written, knowing they are not understanding what you were doing or how you had no intention of changing this little thing they seem to be harping on. If they’re not getting it, there’s a reason for that. Just let them quibble about it and take notes.

  3. Don’t hold back on the praise. I have heard people in workshops say, “Don’t tell me what’s good. Just tell me what I need to change.” and that’s not a universal feeling. I want to hear the praise and I think most people agree with me. Because if I know what I am doing well, I can lean into it. 

  4. Let people be wrong. Sometimes people want to write something in a certain way and don’t want to hear criticism about it. So let them be wrong. Either they’ll come to terms with what you said later, or they will continue to be wrong. But don’t fight them on it. 

  5. Say “thank you for sharing”. No one has to share their work. It’s a honor to be able to see something another person has written in the early stages. 

  6. Be generous, but have boundaries. I’ve added the “have boundaries” part. I believe if you approach situations with a generous heart, you get ten fold back. If you enter a workshop consumed by what you’re getting out of it, then you probably aren’t going to get anything from it. That being said, boundaries are important. You are allowed to cut off the tap if you feel your good nature is being taken advantage of. People who turn in things at the last minute should not expect the same critique as someone who showed up on time. Someone who dominates the chat needs to hear someone say, “It’s time we heard from someone else.” It’s okay to say, “I just don’t have time for that right now.”

  7. You’re not in competition with anyone in that workshop room. I had to be reminded of this. In my MFA program, the director always opened our session with the reminder, “You are not in competition with anyone in this room. Your only competition is at the bookstore.” When you are in workshop, you are not competing with someone for sales, and also, book people buy in bulk, so even there the competition is lower than we project. I’ve been in workshops where the competitive atmosphere has taken over me and I was not my best self. So now I try to remind myself that I am not a contestant on a reality show and there is room at the table for everyone, even when my little ego gets bruised when someone next to me is telling me about their awards, their publications, and their experience at Bread Loaf.


At some point, you have to share your writing. There is only so far anyone can go alone. As much as this is a solitary business, it is also a community business. And where I lack networking skills, I can be kind in a workshop space. I can work one on one, where I feel I thrive. I can ask someone to meet me for coffee and not only get feedback, but also make a new friend. And while all of these things are scary, it’s a good, exciting scary, like getting on a roller coaster. Just hop on and enjoy the ride. 


Read books. Wear boots. 

XOXO,

B.

 

A woman stares into a mirror. A post it note covers her face. It reads, "This is What a Writer Looks Like!"

Meeting other writers is one of the modules on my online course This is What A Writer Looks Like! A Creative Mindset Online Course, Enroll today! Get ready to get your creative mind right!

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