Realize Your Book’s Potential: Join (or Form) a Writer’s Group

It’s a long road we writers travel between our initial ideas and a fully realized novel or even a short story. Few of us possess the genius to fully flesh out every aspect – from character development and plot weaving down to the gritty details of setting and action – which is one reason why the critics can point out flaws even in books that are considered to be classics.

Every writer has his or her own areas of expertise. Consider the benefits, then, of joining forces with others who are apt to have different strengths and weaknesses than you. This is what I find appealing – and, sometimes, even essential – about writer’s groups.

The first benefit of being involved in a critique group is the simple encouragement. If you and your fellow members agree to meet, say, one evening a week – and each bring in NEW material to read – then that keeps each of you motivated to write. Completing a novel can feel like such a nebulous goal. The end could be years down the road, provided we aren’t de-railed at any point between now and then. It’s a much more feasible ambition to churn out another ten pages to read next Tuesday at your group meeting.

The input of fellow writers can be invaluable in pointing out strengths, weaknesses, and inconsistencies in our work. If you’re a novelist, then you’re probably aware of the degree of concentration that’s necessary to hold a dozen characters and as many plot layers in your mind at all times – and how easy it is to overlook smaller details in the midst of that.

Thanks to the feedback I received in my own group, I was able to identify the “shin busters” in my first novel – like when I had a single character dragging a moose across the plains, or my heroine’s eyes appearing as differently colored between chapters three and eleven. It’s best to find these problems early on before we submit our books to those less forgiving editors and agents.

For shorter works, like stories, articles and essays, the feedback we get from our group lets us know how effectively we’re communicating our basic ideas. If we can “sell” our argument to everyone in our group, we’ll be that much more likely to sell the piece to a magazine or e-zine editor.

A couple of tips for running your group smoothly: (1) Stick to a time limit for each member’s reading and response time. When one person dominates the discussion for too long it can provoke the others’ resentment. (2) Discuss only what members have WRITTEN, not what they PLAN to write. This is a critique, not a collaborative writing session. We can talk about the merits of this idea or that indefinitely, but if nothing is put down on paper then it’s really just a fancy form of procrastination. We’re here to help each other with revision, not brainstorming, and to motivate everyone to stay productive.

If you’re still not convinced about the merits of this approach to polishing your craft, then consider these two works, now both blockbuster films, which sprouted out of a single writer’s group: “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Chronicles of Narnia”.

“The Inklings”, in England, once boasted both J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis amongst its members. Lewis’ space fantasy, which began with “Out of the Silent Planet”, was the result of a gentleman’s bargain he made with Tolkien. And Tolkien acknowledged more than once in his correspondences that he would probably never have finished his own masterpiece if not for Lewis’ encouragement.

Consider that for a moment. “The Lord of the Rings” wouldn’t exist if J.R.R. Tolkien hadn’t belonged to a writer’s group.

Seth Mullins is the author of “Song of an Untamed Land”, a novel of fantasy in lawless frontier territory. Visit Seth at

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