So what makes a good writers’ group? If we had to answer in one word, we would say, respect, and that includes trust.
Respect for the writer. The writer comes as a pilgrim, bearing an offering. Whether the writer be prince (experience/published) or pauper (brand new beginner), he is granted the respect of willing attention and receipt of the critique he desires, whether it be “Does this work? Are the characters believable?” or a complete pre-pub edit. This includes respect for the writer’s emotions—a willingness to laugh or cry along with him.
Respect for the piece. To place the offering on the table requires an act of faith by the writer. This is met by the respect of serious consideration and gentle but honest critique, focusing on the merits of the piece itself, the type of critique desired, and the intent of the writer. It is never the group’s purpose to change the intent, but to clarify, to suggest, and to encourage.
Respect for the group. Each writer brings to the group his respect for its function and for the other members, making sure each one has time for his work to be discussed, is willing to give his thoughtful critique or expertise, and holds sacred within the group whatever revelations might be shared. Because of the mutal trust within the group, there is no “competition.” Everyone has the same goal—to make each other’s work the best it can be.In my mind, the most important aspect of a writing group is to make the writing better without changing the voice of the author.