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Are writers groups helpful to published non-fiction writers?

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carolinayellowdog Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jun-10-11 06:46 AM
Original message
Are writers groups helpful to published non-fiction writers?
Greetings colleagues,

I was quite intrigued by a reference here to a writer's meetup group that is semi-local for me. But for a couple of reasons I wonder if there is any point in trying to join the group. My publications have all been non-fiction: three university press books, one from a niche publisher focused on a specific subject area, and a couple of chapters in collections, one from a major trade publisher and another from a small specialized publisher. At the moment I'm working simultaneously on three projects with a new publisher: a chapter for a collection, editing the collected writings of a 19thc author long out of print, and helping produce an annotated scholarly edition of a 19thc novel. These last two projects are completely new territory for me. This varied background led me to wonder if I might have something useful to offer to beginning and aspiring writers. My need that might be met by a writers support group is for advice about how to organize one's material, juggle multiple projects, etc. from more professional (and tech-savvy) writers. The opportunities and challenges involving book promotion also provide endless fodder for discussion.

But when I did a search for the local group that inspired my curiosity, the one I found seemed to be overwhelmingly (90%+) focused on fiction writers, and almost as overwhelmingly dominated by unpublished (at least in terms of books) authors. Maybe someone like me would be unwelcome. A pm to the person who wrote here about the group went unanswered; if that augurs a general cold shoulder, I certainly don't want to drive an hour to experience more of the same.

I'm very grateful for a network of writers around the world in email communication about many lines of research. One couldn't ask for more support, but it's all about specifics of historical scholarship, not about more general issues facing writers. By contrast, face to face communication with fellow authors is an extremely rare and pleasurable experience for me. Do local writers meetup groups have any usefulness to someone looking for mutual encouragement among experienced, published non-fiction writers? If not, where do you find it?

Thanks for any suggestions.
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sybylla Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jun-10-11 10:42 AM
Response to Original message
1. It all boils down to the individual group, IMHO.
I'm one of a four person writing group that formed in 2004 when a friend suggested it to a friend and she brought her friend.

Even though we focus primarily on fiction and poetry, one of our four is an English prof who has written extensively in non-fiction - including articles for Facts on File, a Feminist analysis of the Harry Potter series, and several other large and small projects.

As we all have a background in English with various experiences in journalism, teaching, technical writing, and/or Women's Studies, we welcomed her non-fiction projects into our group. We gave her advice on just the sort of things you're looking for - organization, presentation of arguments, language level/word choice, and other various aspects of non-fiction.

On the other hand, writers are a naturally insecure bunch and may feel uncomfortable with someone of your background and experience joining their existing group. Plus some writing groups really get hung up on their primary focus (Romances, Mysteries, literary fiction, etc) - establishing hard goals and bragging about the number of published books they have. They will have no interest in anything outside their chosen genre.

My experience tells me that, short of a warm reply from an existing group, your best bet will be trying to create your own writers group that isn't an hour away - maybe recruiting members out of your peers and friends (or peers' friends). The riskier path might be to make a bulletin board posting at your local library or coffee shop (or wherever you're likely to find the kinds of writers with the background you're looking for).

You might also want to try posting your call to form a group in an online writing forum like the Absolute Write Water Cooler - http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums / - or Writer's Digest's online forums, not to mention so many more. There you may be able to find people serious about writing in your area. Or, better yet, you may find an electronic solution to your writing group needs.
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carolinayellowdog Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jun-10-11 01:57 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. thanks, Ning is looking like a great electronic solution
There are 2-3 dozen people I know whose historical interests are interrelated enough to form an online forum to collaborate and share research. People who see one another once or twice a year at conferences but live scattered around the US. (And world) The insecurity of writers will be assuaged by making the discussion forum private. But there can also be plenty of public content in blogs, vid embeds, etc.
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sybylla Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jun-10-11 04:06 PM
Response to Reply #2
3. My group also has a "secret" group on Facebook
Nothing is ever "secret" on Facebook, but since we're all there on a regular basis, it's handy. We use our secret group to share info, great Internet finds and other between meeting messages. We haven't gone to doing our writers group work on FB yet as we all live fairly close. FB can't beat face to face meetings.

Ning sounds quite similar and a great way to collaborate and share - especially when regular face to face meetings aren't possible.

Good luck!

And, if you think of it, come on back in a month or two and give us an update. I'd like to hear how you pull people together and make electronic "meetings" work.
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carolinayellowdog Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jun-14-11 11:42 AM
Response to Reply #3
4. Will report, after seeing colleagues in person this summer
The basic problem, as I see it, is really insuperable. Non-fiction writers critique one another's research, evidence, and reasoning very generously. But as for appraising one's writing-- it just doesn't happen in my experience. In many years of writing, I've gotten all the encouragement and support *as a researcher and scholar* that I could possibly ask for. But the mutual support in the writing craft that I see here and in various real-life groups does seem to be a special preserve of fiction writers, poets, etc. Nonetheless it will be pleasurable to set up a ning network of fellow researchers in related subjects, even knowing that it will never be a "writer's group" in the sense discussed here.
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