I am the itch.

Writers Groups are Focus Groups

As I mentioned previously, I attend a lot of writers groups. In fact, I also even run a writers group. In fact, sometimes it feels like I actually attend more writing groups than I actually write anymore, or submit stories, or edit, or revise. #writinglife

But those are my problems, not yours. But on the plus side, I do have some more thoughts on the matter.

Something occurred to me the other day about writers groups.

On the one hand, it may appear that writers groups are an inherently a creative endeavour, however - unless you are doing some sort of actual writing like with prompts - I would argue that most writing group meetings, the kind where you either send a piece beforehand for others to read, or bring a piece to share and then discuss and receive feedback, are actually closer to something most of us don’t think about as a creative activity at all: that of market research.

More specifically, focus groups.

As you probably already know, writing groups are essentially an opportunity to gather information and “test the waters” and get answers to questions like those below:

  • What did people like about your piece?
  • What did people not like about your piece?
  • Were people interpretations / reactions the same as what you intended / anticipated when writing it?
  • What areas need the most work or attention?
  • How is the piece overall? Is it very strong, very weak, or somewhere in between?

So, here’s the point that I want to make with this post. The important thing is not so much the individual answers to questions like these above and others, but the answers and impressions to your work in aggregate. This may be obvious to some, but not so obvious to others.

Because the other thing that needs pointing out for writers group newbies is that there is such a thing as good and bad feedback, and that, while you should always be polite, it’s ultimately your work, and you should feel free to even reject or ignore some feedback you may receive. This is perfectly valid.

WHAT?? Sacrilege! HOW DARE YOU!! shocked cat emoji face

Again, if you’re trying to make your piece the best it can be, you want to gauge what the general reactions would be of an audience overall. Just because one person doesn’t like your protagonist’s encounter with a seagull, doesn’t mean that scene is bad.

But if more than one person - and I would say, mostly definitely if three or four - identify the same issues in your story and are in agreement, then you know that these are legitimate problem areas to be worked on and this is not feedback you can ignore.

See, easy right? You’re gathering a lot of great information that other folks are kind enough to be offering up just for you, on their own time - for free - because they are as passionate about the craft of writing as you are. Don’t let it go to waste!

Finally, one last point on the note of market research, you should also think about your target audience. I feel like this should also be obvious and go without saying, but don’t bring your psycho cannibal killer clown story to a literary fiction group, and please, please, please don’t bring your coming-of-age story or bildungsroman to a sword-and-sorcery group.

Unless for some strange reason you’re seeking to write a piece with very broad universal appeal, you’re wasting everyone’s time, including your own. Writers in genre-specific groups are also going to be more familiar with the style, devices, tropes, and common pitfalls in that style of fiction and so, generally speaking, should be able to provide better feedback on what works in your piece and what doesn’t.

Okay, that’s it for now. Keep on writing, y’all. Onward and upward.

- the itch