Writers' Groups

Recently, I joined two writers' groups. (I can never remember if the apostrophe is before of after the 's'...oh well.) I've been a part of writers' groups off and on throughout my "writing career." All of them have different dynamics and all of them have been beneficial in one way or another.
I think writers' groups are really good for budding/aspiring writers. It helps you know what is working in your writing and what is not...from people who really care about writing.
Of course, there are pros and cons to any writers' groups. I'm going to list a few here:
1. Having a variety of objective writers can help you analyze your work without you involved.
Typically, in a writers' group, after you read your piece aloud, you are no longer allowed to speak after that. You can't "defend" your work or rationalize the person's comment. You only listen. This is hard to learn how to do, since your writing is personal, yes, but it is SO SO important that you let your critiquers critique! That's why you're in a writers' group!
2. The more eyes on your piece, the better.
I know all writers have their own level of privacy. JK Rowling only allows one or two close friends to read her work before she submits it to her agent. But, I think she is the exception to the rule. Because you are thick into your story, you will skip over story holes and cliches and typos. You want your story to make sense to the common person. The more eyes the better.
I'm not saying you should give a copy of your work to just anybody. But, when you join a writers' group, you should be able to trust them.
3. Encouragement.
These people will be your cheerleaders...forever. They will be encouraging. They will be helpful. They will want you to do your best...just as you want them to do their best. And hopefully, you will grow more confident as a writer as you learn to take their advice.
1. Being in the wrong writers' group.
Yes, there is such a thing as a wrong writers' group. You need to search for a group that fits with you (and it looks different for each person). I would try not to go to a writers' group with all friends. You will be too nice to each other (trust me). You want to find a group that will balance critique with encouragement. You want to find a group that is open-minded, where not one person controlls the feedback (a "my way or the highway" attitude).
Find a group that you feel comfortable around, that you can trust the members with your secrets. After all, this is your writing, your baby, you should shop around for the best.
2. Be aware when the group's (or your) sole purpose is shameless marketing.
I think marketing is fine. But I've seen people join a writers' group just for the sake of hawking their wares. "I'm new to this group...check out my recently published book!" "Oh, I remember in my book when I wrote a scene like yours." This is annoying. And there are groups out there with a high turnover membership rate, because of this fact.
3. Be aware when the group is controlled by one person.
I mentioned this in CON #1. So many times, writers get it into their heads that they are the Know-All. They've read so many books and have written for so long, that they've grown a huge ego about writing. They think they're the best critiquer out there and that their advice should be followed to the 'T'. (I've been here, too.)
I'm not talking about a moderator. I'm talking about one member who believes that his work is THE BEST and should be THE MEASURE that all other members' work should aspire to. This person will disagree with other members' feedback and will try to force you to see things his way. If you have this type of person in your group, you should leave. While, I'm sure, his feedback has some merit, this writers' group is consisted of more people than just him.
Anyway, if you find the writers' group that fits, they will only help in the end.
For those of you who haven't joined one: Yes, reading your work to strangers is scary. But, you need to get used to this. Once you're published, everyone is going to be making critiques! :)

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