Creative Writers: Find Workshop Groups In Your Area.

Want to share your writing and get feedback from other authors? Here's how to find a creative writer's group in your area.

You've written in seclusion for years, not entirely sure of what to do after your stories or essays have seen fifty or sixty revisions apiece. What do you do once you've exhausted yourself finding and fixing as many problems as you can spot? How do you make sure it's polished and ready to go? Where do you submit it if you think it's good enough to be published? Can you even submit that fifteen-hundred-word essay about your grandmother's flower garden? Will anybody care?

If you need to be inspired, corrected, or taught, find a creative writer's group in your area. Even if you live in Nowheresville, Population 300, it's entirely possible that you can find at least one other writer within driving - or even walking - distance. The trick is to find a group of people who share your passion for the written word, and who will encourage you to keep working (versus running your best stories through the verbal paper shredder).

Word of mouth is a good place to start, especially in smaller communities. If a group of ten writers meet every Thursday night in the high-school library, at least twenty people will know about it. Your job is simply to find those people and get the information. Think about it a little before you question random people on the street: check places where writers - and friends of writers - are likely to be. The library is a good place to ask; so is the community college down the street. All you have to do is say, "I'm looking for a creative writing group. Do you know of anything like that around here?" The librarian, college creative-writing instructor, and half of the English department will probably know, or at least be able to point you to someone who has information.

Don't be shy about putting out the word yourself. Go to the bookstore and have a chat with the proprietor. He or she has probably been approached by a few other people in your situation; if nothing else, you and those other people might be able to get together a couple of times a month.

If that doesn't work, you can use your computer to create simple flyers announcing your needs. "Children's author seeks creative writing group in metropolitan area. Call Cyndi at 555-5555" should work. Just be sure that you don't give a map to your house; you really don't want strange people showing up at your door at three in the morning. Hopefully the right people - other writers - will see your flyer and extend an invitation.

Web searches usually yield results. When searching for groups, be sure to look at dates: if the Creative Writers of Booneyville haven't updated their Web site since 1998, it's a safe bet that they're either not together anymore or simply aren't looking for new members. Just to be sure, send an e-mail or give the Webmaster a call. If nothing else, he or she might be able to tell you about other groups in the area who are still up and going.

Sometimes you don't find much online. If that's the case, try posting your query to message boards and users groups. Note: be sure that you only post in related boards or groups; being reported for spamming other users won't help you any. This should be something that you do in addition to another tactic: nobody really knows when anybody will get back to you online. You might post in a user group that hasn't been visited in a few days - or months. There might be server problems, which delay your post. And, of course, there is always the possibility that nobody reading your message can help you, and therefore don't respond.

Keep trying. You might not find anything in the next couple of days, but you'll hit it eventually. In the meantime, there are a few things you can do to prepare yourself.

Be sure that any work you want to share with others is typed up. Use a "standard" font, like Times New Roman or Courier New. If it's anything BUT a poem, make sure it's double-spaced. Don't use graphics or colored paper - they only distract from your work. The idea is to make this as presentable and reader-friendly as possible. Doing it now will give you the opportunity to a) catch errors and inconsistencies that you might have missed the first eighty times around and b) save some time in case you get a phone call tonight saying there's a meeting in two hours.

Make sure you're prepared to handle criticism. The idea behind creative writing groups is NOT to be gushed over and worshiped just because you managed to put out fifteen pages' worth of story. You're going to be criticized. This means that people will say, "I like this element, but I think your character needs more development. I don't understand why he's chasing the one-armed shoe salesman with a chainsaw." This is not to say that creative writers should be outright mean to each other; that's unproductive and discouraging. However, you should be ready to discuss your work, ask questions about the problems other people in the group have with certain parts, and listen to their ideas on how to make it better. You don't HAVE to follow any advice you receive, but listening with an open ear - and mind - will only help you.

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