I’ve written here before about the importance of community in carrying our writing careers forward and I stand by that advice. You’ve only gotten where you are because of the hands you’ve held. But no one community may be able to carry the upwardly mobile among you all the way to your goal.
Is it time for you to leave your communal nest? Consider the following.
1. The organization may no longer be a fit. Everything about the publishing industry is in flux, so why not writing groups? The group that supported you during the decade you sought an agent may now advocate for self-publishing. The programming on story craft you signed on for may now be devoted to marketing talk. If majority rule means you are not progressing toward your goals—and especially if your needs feel sidelined, or belittled in any way by the people masquerading as your comrades—the culture of your organization has become a poor fit. It’s time to get out and try another.
2. Your critique group may be holding you back. When critiquers are secretly flummoxed about what a writer is trying to accomplish, they’ll often focus on minutiae when the root problem may be weak story architecture that a one-chapter-per-month analysis won’t allow them to identify, even if they knew how. The writer walks away from the group relieved that the session has gone so well—but carrying a well-worded, perfectly meaningless story. While critique groups can be a great place to gain early workshopping experience, there may come a time when you’re trading your valuable time for advice that is holding you back.
3. Growth happens outside of your comfort zone. The creative mind thrives on new experiences and alternate ways of thinking, and you can’t acquire those if you stay in the same place with the same people doing the same thing. Your writing organization may feel like home, but there may come a time when you need mentors with more depth in the industry to inform you, challenge you, and open new doors for you. To do that, you must reach up—not back.
4. Even empty luggage causes drag. Remind yourself of your goal in joining the group in the first place. I doubt that it was to make friends, even though that may be a valued side benefit. If you find that that marketing cooperative you joined does more drinking than retweeting, it may be time to cut ties. You could try to adjust your expectations and stay—your friends are still sparking joy!—but it won’t work for long. A writer only has so much time in her life, and she needs to surround herself with similarly dedicated colleagues who can help her career.
5. A big fish who stays in a small pond casts a large shadow. Leaving a writers’ organization can be fraught because we worry about hurting people’s feelings. But what if you are hurting others by staying? Others may benefit from the opportunity to fill a leadership role you’ve vacated. Annual contest wins and self-published anthology entries may feed your ego, but may not equal the career advancement you seek. Meanwhile, you’re standing in the way of others who need the chance to shine.
If you are getting all you want or need from your writing group and are satisfied with your career as is, I’m not trying to suggest you leave behind a valued resource.
But if your needs aren’t being met and you think it may be time to make a move, please don’t worry that you’re ditching your friends. In this business, you need all the friends you can get, and those who really care about you will find other ways to keep in touch.
No two writing paths are the same, and you’re simply seeking to further yours—and that was always the point.
Is it time for you to leave the nest? Have you ever had to leave a group that was no longer serving your needs? Did it end up being a good move? Were you able to preserve valued relationships?
Kathryn Craft is the award-winning author of two novels from Sourcebooks, The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy, and a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft. Her chapter “A Drop of Imitation: Learn from the Masters” was included in the writing guide Author in Progress, from Writers Digest Books. Janice Gable Bashman’s interview with her, “How Structure Supports Meaning,” originally published in the 2017 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, has been reprinted in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, both from Writer’s Digest Books.