I’ve been wondering lately what the purpose of a writer’s group is — or should be. It appears that there’s a new paradigm of what the purpose of a writer’s group is, and I’m realizing that (to my extreme chagrin) I haven’t been keeping up with the times
I’ve belonged to three over the course of my writing life (not counting college). The first two took place before the Web as a basis of social interaction was fully formed. As a result, my idea of a writers group was formed at a time when they were meetings where people read each other’s work, met to critique it, and discussed among themselves various markets and strategies. And that was pretty much it.
But today, things are different. In these days of self-publishing and online social networking, a writers group — especially one made up of experienced writers — needs to do more than simply offer critiques and moral support. It also has to actively support its members, online and off, by helping them become known within the genre community (and, hopefully, outside of it); to help them hone their stories for self-publishing (if that’s the way they want to go) or help them meet and work with editors and publishers. At least, that’s what I’m starting to understand.
And I’m also starting to realize that, even if I wanted to stick with a more old-fashioned view of the group, it may not be possible. A writer’s group is not a static entity; people move away, become ill, have to care for children or elderly relatives, or just have life changes that get in the way. So for a group to maintain its usefulness and vitality, there also has to be a influx of new people with new styles, new ideas about writing. (For some reason, I’m picturing in my mind a sort of amoeba, constantly moving and shifting, with bits of it breaking off and new bits being absorbed.)
And to attract new people? Especially those who would work well with the existing members of the group? You have to do more than simply be a good place to discuss writers’ work.
At least, that’s what I’m starting to learn.