Finding a writers’ group that fits your needs is a lot like dating. You have a mental list of things you hope it will be. You feel a hint of butterflies before your first meeting. You want to make a good impression. You find yourself making stupid jokes to take the attention away from your nervous energy. And you kind of know if it’s going to work out or not within the first couple of minutes.
I tried a couple of groups and settled on two that work for me. I find that I need both because they are polar opposites.
The first one is with close friends. Brunch is usually involved, or at the very least, mimosas, and the mood is totally casual. There are no requirements for page count, but if you have a script, we’ll read it the night before then chat about it together. Sometimes a week will go by and we’ll forget to meet. Sometimes we talk about scripts for a few minutes then transition into discussion of Veep or Game of Thrones. The feedback is always so nice. Always supportive. I suspect I could bring something in that I wrote in high school and hear, “This is fabulous! I love it!” I’ll be honest, the group is much more about discovering new brunch places than it is about providing hard-hitting criticism on our scripts.
The other group meets at the same house in Pasadena once a week, at 8:30pm sharp. We each sit in the same seats every week. You need to be approved by current group members to get a spot in the group. We read each others’ scripts out loud, then provide at least a half hour of criticism afterwards. If we find ourselves going off on a tangent, the discussion is quickly brought back to the matter at hand. The criticism is intelligent, tough, and there’s a lot of it. We make sure our work is the best we can make it before bringing it in to be critiqued. We leave with at least ten ideas to make the work better, but often with a big re-write ahead of us. No brunch is involved.
Both scenarios have their perks. The first one I mentioned is especially fun, and super positive. And I would be lying if I said it didn’t feel great to get nothing but glowing reviews on my work. But what I love about this group is that it’s a support system, first and foremost. And in LA, when there are so many people competing for the same careers, a genuine support system is vital.
The second group is challenging, and maybe not always as “fun”, but it’s valuable. The members of the second group take the work very seriously, and because of this, it feels important what we are doing- it makes me take my own writing more seriously. It’s helping me to become a more critical reader, and better writer. Because compliments are so rarely doled out in Group 2, it makes me work even harder to try to impress the tough crowd. And it holds me accountable – forces me to write more than I normally would.
Are you in a writers’ group, or have you ever tried one out? What works for you? What doesn’t?