Writers of all levels can benefit from sharing their work with a trusted reader. As a beginning writer, I found those trusted readers at a local writing group. I'd print out a new poem and carry it breathlessly to the meeting. If even one person gave a positive or helpful comment, I was thrilled. I gotta admit, though, that as I gained in confidence and experience, I drifted away from established groups and switched to sharing my work with a couple of writer-friends. Still, I'd encourage folks to try a group. The company of other writers can nourish us like nothing else!
TRYING A GROUP
A Google search will help you find a local group. Public libraries often host writers' groups, too, or can point you in the right direction. Writers meet online as well. I like http://poetry.meetup.com/. Just type in your zip code and - shazam! - you'll see a list of writing organizations near you.
If you do try a writing group, keep a few things in mind:
- Each group has its own culture. If you visit once, and it feels like a fit, great. If not, there's probably another group out there that will suit you better.
- The critique you receive will vary in quality. You're the AUTHORity on your own work, so be open to suggestions, but trash comments that are unhelpful.
- Not all writers in the group are going to write much. Realize that some of them gather for social reasons, putting that first and writing second.
- Some groups charge dues or fees; others don't. Check the group's website for details. If the group does collect money, find out what it's used for. Typically, the cash covers the costs of renting the meeting space or bringing in guest speakers.
- Be ready to separate people's work from their personal identity. Don't assume that the poem reflects the poet's life or you'll offend someone. When you critique, focus on the craft (word choices, metaphor, sound play, etc.), not the political views or cultural values of the poem.
Participating in a writing group gave me:
1) deadlines for writing new poems
2) permission to focus energy on writing
3) a sense of community
Though I don't belong to a formal group right now, I'm glad I did.