I've read some blog posts about why you should join a writers' group, and I've read a few on why you shouldn't, but rather than write about writers' groups in general, I'm going to blog about a specific group, my group: Writeshop. Unless you happen to live in reasonable driving distance of Columbus, Ohio, knowing about Writeshop probably isn't going to do you a lot of good, and we're a "by audition" group, so even if you're close not everyone who applies gets in (by the way, it's very tough for members to evaluate applicants, so if you happen to be reading this and we've turned you down, don't give up, don't take it personally, and if you've had a bajillion things published and you're saying to yourself, "Fuck those Writeshop assholes. What the heck do they know?" it just goes to show you we aren't perfect).
Anyhow, we have a ritual of sorts when new members are added. I'd like to say it's all spankings, ritualistic hazing, and Jello molds in the shapes of Lovecraftian horrors, but all we really do is introduce ourselves to the new members. Recently we accepted two new members, and I've yet to meet either of them in person, but I've been thinking about what to say when it's my turn to introduce myself. Most of the time we say who we are, where we've been published, and what sort of things we like to write. This time I thought I'd get specific and say exactly what Writeshop has done for me, so I spent some time tallying all the stories and novel chapters I've presented to the group, and holy shit, I've presented a LOT of stuff.
I submitted my first story to an online magazine in the summer of 2010, so I guess I've been writing for a bit more than three and half years now. I joined Writeshop in the late fall of 2010. I've written 32 short stories so far (about 44% under 1000 words, the longest clocks in at 16K words), and I've presented about 78% of those stories to Writeshop, either for evaluation in a full meeting, or for another less formal process we have. Most of those stories I only presented once, but a few I've presented to the group as many as three times (four?) as I've worked through different versions. I'd estimate that I've also presented about a dozen chapters from a couple of novels I've been working on (40-50K words total maybe?) but have temporarily shelved (mostly because I have some kinks to work out of my novel writing process). That's a HELL of a lot of my material Writeshop members have picked through.
Having written all that, I can say with confidence that I would not have done as well as I have without a LOT of help from my group members. As a new member I started off very rough, and I'm still clueless when it comes to certain rules of grammar (I'm sure I've made a number of mistakes in this blog post). Unlike some members who present masterful drafts to the group, save for a few typos, my stories can still be pretty rough. Sometimes I'm just seeing if something works, and often my answer is, "No, Rob. That sucked. Here's all the stuff you need to change."
Despite this, I've had 23 stories published (or accepted to be published) in the last three and half years. A whopping 70% of those went through Writeshop first, and ALL of my published stories over 1000 words went through the group. I have 9 complete stories that remain unpublished. Two of those are hopeless. The other 7 are new and I'm confident they'll be published eventually, which means Writeshop will have helped me with nearly 80% of what I've had published. My conclusion? Writeshop kicks ass!
Need more convincing? If you look at our past and current members, we've got some pretty impressive people. What's even more amazing is that I've read what our current members have produced, and I know if the publishing world doesn't already know their names, they'll know them soon enough. Some of the unpublished stuff is so good that I'd be shocked if there aren't some future major award nominees in our circle listening to us nitpick their stories.
If you'd like to apply to join Writeshop, contact our leader, Jerry Robinette. If you're way the hell away from Columbus, I wish you luck finding your own group. Every group is going to have its ups and downs, and it may take you time to find the right group for you, but if you're willing to check your ego at the door and listen, you may get just as lucky as I did and find something that really works for you.