What do you mean my jug-eared, cross-eyed, patchy-haired baby is ugly? Conceived late at night, in labor for months, and delivered by my personal computer. What do you really think of my writing? The writing group’s dilemma. Do you strive for honest feedback from your peers? Or is a verbal pat on the back your goal? A successful writing group should achieve a balance between sending you home humming a happy tune or banging your head against the steering wheel.

During one “Ask A Pro” seminar, I asked a well known author of his opinion on the value of writing groups. His judgement was divided, sort of like Supreme Court decisions. A group can smooth the passage to a final product or be a bunch of beavers damming the story flow.

My writing group is a happy happening, the essence of its success is distilled from the following guidelines:

1. Professional leader. The person in charge must not only know the writing craft but be able to communicate it to the members.
2. Talent balance. A published superstar who wants an admiring audience can stifle the growth of others in the group. Conversely, a rank amateur can’t be allowed to free load on the group’s talent. A winning writing group is a team, not a collection of creative individuals.
3. Criticize the work, not the person. Mutual respect for honest evaluation helps everyone grow. When the words shine, say it, when they fall short, say it. The words are being judged, not the person. Keep things in perspective, your story is a cup of water in a sea of writing, not the last sip of water in barren sands.
4. Have fun. Do your part to make the experience positive and worthwhile for every member. Having the offender pony up a dozen chocolate cookies for writing “talking heads” dialogue is a better way to motivate improvement than any cutting remark.

Following these suggestions won’t guarantee a successful group, but it will improve the odds. Writing groups are not in the business to create fine jewelry with endless polishing a rare gems. The customer – the reader – is waiting to read your story. They can’t do this until you finish. It’s your story, made better my the thoughtful advice of your peers. Now, do you really think my baby is ugly?

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