Groups of friends are fleeting. Think about all the communities you've belonged to: your summer camp friends, your college band, your coworkers at that buffet restaurant, the parent group at your kids' school.
Most of the groups you've belonged to are in the past. Disbanded. People move on. YOU move on. And that's okay.
A writers group, at best, is a strong set of writers who give and take in equal proportions. But as much as you might want it to, it won't last forever. Membership will change. Meetings will stall or get canceled.
When you accept that fact, it's easier to focus on what you truly want out of a writers group.
Do you want camaraderie, a place where you can talk about the struggles of being a writer, of feeling isolated?
Or are you searching for someone to pat you on the back and tell you how great your writing is?
Do you genuinely want to hone your craft? Are you open to constructive criticism, and are you prepared to spend a few hours a week giving the same to others?
Writers groups come in a variety of forms, but the most popular is the critique group. Each member shares their work on a regular basis -- it may be a chapter or short story or essay or some revisions of poetry. The other members read this submission and mark it up with suggestions, questions, and praise. If your group is five strong, then you'll be required to read the works of four other people, maybe weekly, maybe more or less often.
Sounds like a good deal, right?
It is. The biggest challenge in all of this is actually finding that group. If you live in a large city, of course your chances of finding a group will be greater than if you live in small-town USA.
Wherever you live, though, you can search out groups in a variety of places. Check with your school or library, search Meetup.com and similar interest-based websites, attend workshops through your local SCBWI chapter. You may even find that the best option is a virtual writers group. To do this, join writers forums like Absolute Write and Zoetrope. Just be aware that whether it's virtual or in-person, every writers group will require time and effort. You often have to give as much as (or more) than you get.
My preference is for in-person groups, and I've been fortunate to find two in my area of Florida. One of them has since faded away due to lack of involvement, and the other is on hiatus for the next few months. This last one has been the best writing group experience I've ever had. I've made genuine, lasting friendships. The people are pleasant, serious, focused, and generous. Without their support and encouragement, my novel would surely be permanently shelved.
As with any other community in your life, some will be less than wonderful. One writers group I belonged to was the founder's way of seeking praise for his own work. Another was a loose menagerie of genre writers that was desperate for someone to take the reins. One was a bunch of people who wanted to be writers but didn't actually write. And another was an online group, born out of an online class, but without the structure of that class, the group quickly fizzled out despite our efforts to keep it intact.
Finding a writers group is like writing itself: it can be frustrating and time-consuming and hand-wringing. You'll run into dead-ends and meet with people with whom you simply don't connect. And even when you find one, know that it won't last forever.
All that said, writing groups can be essential for many writers, especially those who are starting out. Your work will benefit from reading the work of others and from gaining feedback from a variety of perspectives. You just have to go into it with an open mind and willingness to accept criticism. Not the easiest thing to do, but essential nonetheless.
Tell us about your experiences with writing groups!