Sunday, June 13, 2010

Rethinking My Writers' Group

I’ve belonged to an extremely supportive, helpful writers’ group for about seven years. This group isn’t an informal gathering in someone’s living room, but a course offered by my community’s recreation department. We pay a fee to meet at one of the recreation centre's rooms for two hours once a week in three, three-month sessions, and this year a summer session will be added. The members of this group, moderated by an experienced, multi-published author, have produced countless published articles, essays, short stories, and books of fiction and nonfiction. A growing number of us have also landed contracts with traditional publishers and many members have gained valuable promotion and marketing experience through self-publishing ventures and speaking engagements. So, it’s no surprise that our group’s success has prompted new writers to join. Unfortunately, success has now become a double-edged sword.

While we love hearing new voices and new writing styles, the group is now eighteen members strong and more were on a waiting list for the current session. While not everyone shows up every week, there are still so many people eager to read their work that, at best, members can read only every two or three weeks. Our reading time is restricted to ten minutes, but critiquing time is unlimited, which has also become a bit of a problem.

Naturally, newer writers need more critique and have more questions, which inevitably swallows up reading and critiquing time for everyone. Adding to mounting frustration is that some members have deadlines, yet they must also wait for their ten minutes every two to three weeks. Lately, every time we meet, I feel that someone is getting short changed, whether new or experienced, so changes need to be made. The big question is how to make changes that will satisfy the majority?

We’re struggling with this issue right now. Do we split into two, multi-genre groups, one for novices and the other for advanced writers? Do we lengthen each session, which has already stretched to two-and-a-half hours per week to accommodate more reading time? Do we cap the attendance at say, 13 or 14, and leave it on a first come, first serve basis? Do we restrict critiquing time?

Our spring session winds up next week and the dilemma must be resolved soon so the recreation department can add a possible second course in their brochure for an August release. Personally, I’m in favour of an additional group, capped at 12, as well as an informal advanced writing group for those with deadlines. Still, I’ll miss the insights and comments from those who aren’t in my group, but whatever happens, I hope it works out for everyone.

As always, my amateur sleuth, Vancouver-based, Alex Bellamy mysteries can be purchased at

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