The pros and cons of writers groups


Some love ‘em. Some hate ‘em. Some haven’t tried ‘em.

Writers groups can be the blessing or the curse, sometimes all wrapped up in the one session. All of the ASTT team have been part of writing workshop groups during their careers. Some of us still are.

So we’ve collated the pros and cons as we see them at this time. Let us know if these are useful and/or if you have anything to add. Our thoughts are always evolving.

The pros:

  • Regular (monthly, fortnightly, weekly?) incentives to produce work

  • Regular appraisal of your work

  • Regular discussion on ideas about writing craft

  • Regular discussion on ideas for your developing story, including ideas you, as author, haven’t thought of

  • Learning from others through feedback on your writing and on their writing

  • Support from people who (should) know your work well.

The cons:

  • Beware the opinionated and insistent member, lest they influence you unduly

  • It’s possible to start writing ‘by consensus’ if you’re not confident in your work

  • It’s also possible to start writing for your group, rather than your intended audience, because you can get instant gratification from your peer feedback

  • It can get complicated when your writers group is not the intended audience for the story, but they think they can read through that lens anyway

  • How do you know if the writers in your midst have the skills to critique your work?

  • The last ‘con’ in this list takes up more than a dot point …

Sometimes our work is not developed enough for workshopping. The ideas are still forming. The voice is half-there. The characters are keen but not yet settled.

In this case it’s possible that your writing peer group can pressure you into bringing work for ‘shopping before it’s ready. Alternatively, our egos might force us to submit work prematurely, because we want, want, want to hear something – anything – to keep us motivated to write. In both cases, bringing half-baked work can lead to criticism of the idea, not the writing, which can stop juicy thoughts in their tracks. On the other hand, a mature, thoughtful writers group can engage in the ideas for their sake, which can be fruitful and stimulating.

So, as you’ll read, the pros of writing groups are that they’re regular reasons to cough up, to write and to show up with your writing for feedback and discourse. Cons seem to be about being wary of the type and timing of the feedback.

Yet many of the cons can be in your control – you can ask for feedback on a certain aspect of the new work, while acknowledging that another part of the writing is ‘not there yet’ so flagging to leave that alone ;-). More broadly, you can select group members carefully, and leave if you don’t feel safe.

At their best, a writers group is a pride of trusted confidantes, who each understand your aims and respond to your challenges of the story you’re telling and are not afraid to compassionately share their experience of what they read.

For more information about how to set up a fun, productive and safe writers workshopping group, read this blog and this one :).

May your words pour onto the page,