Tuesday, July 31, 2012

pay to write?

Not all writers groups are created equal...

I live in a metro-area with about 2.5 million residents. We have two long-standing writing organizations, let's call them Group1 and Group2. Group1 originated over thirty years ago, I believe as a chapter of Romance Writers of America and has well over two hundred members. Group2 originated in 1997 as "an independent creative writing center operated by working writers and university-level teachers of writing" and also has at least a couple hundred members. Obviously, the two groups have a lot of members in common but they have a lot of differences as well. Group1 is run on an all-volunteer basis and focuses on novel-length genre fiction. Group2 pays its teachers and focuses on pretty much everything except novel-length genre fiction; this means poetry, short stories, literary fiction, etc. A lot of the teachers and students associated with Group2 have M.F.A.s.

I have been a member of Group1 for at least thirteen years continuously and have volunteered at various events. My (free!) critique groups have been invaluable over the years. The writers I've met in Group1--some of whom have many excellent genre novels published by New York publishers or smaller houses--have been extremely supportive. Through Group1 I've gotten to pitch various novels to literary agents and editors (for free! because I volunteered at the events). I can't recommend this group enough.

I have been a member of Group2 sporadically over the last ten years. I admit I'm about to let my current membership lapse. I decided my major dissatisfaction with the group is: you have to "pay" to be a writer in this group. Every critique session or workshop costs $$$ and this is after you've already paid your yearly dues! Some of you are no doubt thinking: 'But their teachers have MFAs!' Unfortunately, few of these teachers have written anything I've ever heard of. I myself have an MFA and I can tell you the critique I get via Group2's paid teachers is no better than the free critique I get from my Group1 peers. In fact, it pretty much breaks my heart to see my fellow students paying hundreds of dollars for two chapters of critique per semester in Group2. :( They're not making any progress.

So here's my advice for what it's worth: You should be in a writers group that supports you and doesn't make you pay to write. Writing is, and should be, free.

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