by Kristen Hall-Geisler, Collaborative Editor
We’ve all been hunkered down in our homes doing the best we can to deal with a difficult year, to say the least.But the trees are leafing out and the vaccines are rolling out and we’re thinking about having some hope.
I’ve got a lot of writers in my life, and we fall into two basic camps: those who used writing to fill their pandemic days in a near-manic way, and those who could not write for the life of them during the pandemic. I am in the first camp. I edited and published one book, translated and published a second, and the third is about halfway through the first draft. One of my close friends, a single dad, found himself overwhelmed with work and kids and life in general, but the short story he wrote on a whim last month—his first story in more than a year—may be the nugget of a novel.
Whichever camp you found yourself in, a writing group or critique group can help ease you into the next phase. But like everything, writing groups are going to look different in the coming months and years. That’s true whether your group has been around for years or if you’re looking for a new group. Here are some ground rules I recommend for moving forward.
The Established Critique Group
Your group was established prepandemic, and you know each other’s work pretty well. You’ve probably already set up the kinds of critiques you want. Maybe you all like diving into the details, like word choice, or maybe you look at early drafts and ask questions about theme or voice.
Now is a good time to revisit those group guidelines. Did most of you go hard in 2020 and complete a lot of new work? Then you might want to continue to give detailed critiques and suggestions. Did many of you fall off the writing wagon as other things became priorities? Or did some of your members contract COVID and fall victim to its brain fog? You might want to dial back a bit and go for a more encouraging mode. There’s nothing wrong with merely cheering each other on for each writing goal achieved regardless of quality. Sometimes words on a page is all we can do, and having fellow writers validate this is motivating.
The other question for established groups this year will be transitioning from online meetings to in-person. It sounds great! And also terrifying! Many writers I’ve spoken with are really of two minds about this. We want to see other people so badly, and yet a lot of us fell very comfortably into our little introverted pandemic routines.
So when you are all vaccinated and comfortable getting together, be aware that it’s going to be weird. Conversations that flowed easily prepandemic or even over an internet connection are going to be stilted. Silences will be awkward. No one will know where to look or what to do with their hands. It’s fine. It took practice to find our pandemic routines, and it will take time to find our social routines again.
That said, be aware that some will be more comfortable meeting in person than others. Keep those online accommodations as much and for as long as you can. Even after everyone is vaccinated and overall risk of infection is lower, some people might still prefer meeting online for any number of reasons. Could be their health, their mobility, their childcare situation, their comfort level. Try to keep these folks in your group. It’s tough to find good critique partners!
Finding a New Writing Group
As you ease out of your homebound shell, manuscript in hand, you’ll want to find some people to read what you’ve written. It’s tempting to send it to your friends and family, but they’re probably not going to give feedback the way other writers would. You need to find your people. But how?
The good news is, this spring everything is still very much online. Classes, book launches, author readings, seminars, conferences—all online. Attend them! Many are free or have lower fees than the usual in-person events would. Your first objective is to learn from the presentation, but your second objective is to keep an eye on the chat window. Anybody over there writing in your genre? Anybody looking for a critique group? It is possible to network a little at these events, especially during Q&A or just after the speaker has finished but the chat room is still live. Share a public way to get in touch with you, such as a social media handle, rather than your personal email address.
Speaking of social media, it’s another good way to find authors in your genre and at your rung of the writing ladder. Twitter and Facebook are great for this; Instagram, Pinterest, and TikTok less so. See what hashtags people are using and use them yourself for your posts. Popular tags include #amwriting and #amediting, but there are others for any genre you might write.
You’ll likely start out meeting online, and your group may be spread across the country or across the globe. Your first sessions should set out what kinds of critiques you all expect, if pages will be sent in advance or read live, if you want to focus on the work of one or two members each time or give everyone a short slot in each meeting.
As with the established group, if your new group is local, be as accommodating as possible around in-person meetups while areas open up over the summer as COVID cases (we hope) go down. Some might be more able to meet in person, and some might be less. If this group is working out for all of you, then try to keep everybody together as much as you can using in-person and online meetings.
Kristen Hall-Geisler lives in Oregon, and she is currently part of three (3!) writing groups. In 2012, she joined Indigo as a contract editor, and she has edited more than 125 projects under Indigo’s banner. She has edited a wide variety of books, but she specializes in creative nonfiction, historical fiction, and sci-fi/fantasy titles for adults.