Writing groups are ubiquitous. They’re in every city, most counties, and if you look through MeetUp.com you’ll be inundated with choices.
Writing groups vary widely in how they’re constructed and what they offer. Some are designed just to set specific times to come and write – Write-Ins – while others are meant to give you feedback on your work, while still others are just unstructured get-togethers.
Before you get started, it’s important to ask yourself, What Kind Of Writer Do I Want To Be? Writing groups tend to split into two categories: those of casual writers, and those of determined writers. However you answer the question, you’re going to want a group of writers with similar habits and goals. The only honest way to figure out the attitudes and writing habits of different groups is… to actually go to the groups.
But to save you the years’ long process of attending every writing group in NJ to find the one that fits you best, we’ve put together an abridged run-down of the different groups in NJ:
Fee-based Workshops: These workshops are great for writers with no formal instruction. They tend to be courses or seminars, like what you would take in school. You register, pay anywhere from $20 to $400, and attend several sessions hosted by a professional writer, or someone who teaches writing professionally.
Where to Look: There are fee-based workshops offered at for-profit centers, such as the The Writing Center, or the The Writers Circle. Many colleges also hold their own fee-based workshops, open to students and non-students alike. Try out the Cooper Street Writing Workshops at Rutgers-Camden, or the Poetry Workshops offered at Passaic County Community College.
Write-Ins: The purpose of a write-in is to force you to write. If you have a hard time finding the time to actually sit down and write something, either because of your office job or the hectic career of raising children, a write-in is a scheduled, set-in-stone time for you to write. These groups meet at libraries, restaurants, cafes – small groups of people whom you get to know.
Where to Look: Check-out the Princeton Writing Group or Bridgewater Creative Writing (both Meetups), or, if you’re in South Jersey, Seeking the Muse. Typically, if you’re looking for a group that will force you to write, you’re going to want to find one that meets at least once a week.
Critique-Groups: These are your traditional workshops – writers share their work, the group then critiques and gives feedback. There’s variety to how these workshops are held, but the most useful are the ones for which you have to submit your writing prior to the meeting for everyone to read. This gives everyone time to develop their opinions and criticisms, and what you get as feedback are well-thought opinions of what worked and what didn’t work. Just as important as the feedback you’ll receive is the opportunity you’ll have to think critically about the work submitted by other writers. You’re required to participate: you have to critique the work of others, which in turn helps you critique your own work.
Genre: What these groups offer includes readings, workshops, and discussion, all focused on a single genre. You can assume there’s a group for every genre and sub-genre in existence. There’s the Montclair Poetry Project, Lawrence Creative Non-fiction, Cozy Nostra Crime Writers, and the Ridgewood Memoir Writing, just to get you started.
General: These groups are hangouts. You get coffee, chat with other writers, maybe work on a prompt or a project you’ve been trying to finish. You swap stories for feedback, you make some new friends, you stroll across the street to an open-mic night with those new friends. Check-out The Monmouth Writers, the South Jersey Writers Group, Jersey City Writers, or the Fun North Jersey Fiction Writers.
Online: As if MeetUp.com hasn’t spawned enough groups, there are also online workshops, seminars, and forums (even Craigslist) where you receive feedback or learn new skills. Here’s a short list:
- Gotham Writers
- Writers Digest
- Reddit – questionable whether this is any better than fishing Craigslist for useful feedback.
- Writing Forums