ere we are:

ow does this group function?

All writers groups are not the same.  Each one has its own dynamic which works for its members.  So if you want to start a group, you can use our guidelines to help you get started, but, like us, you'll have to navigate the various problems and issues that arise in your group in the way that works best for your.  But here's what we did.

Obviously, writing groups can work.  If writing groups haven't worked for you, you were in the wrong group. In our group, our focus is producing salable works and then going out and doing our darnedest to sell them!  In other words, we write, we revise, we seek out agents, and we go after those sales. We don't just sit around and talk about doing it "someday." Our goal is for all of us to sell at a professional level. Other writers groups have different goals.  It doesn't matter so much what the goal is, provided everyone shares it.  If one person wants to write sonnets to his girlfriend, and another wants to make the New York Times Bestseller list, and another wants to write screenplays for a local theatrical company, you aren't going to mesh well.  No one's personal goal is wrong, but to make a group work, everyone should have similar goals.  So Rule 1 for writer's groups: Have a goal, then be focused and stay focused.

Also, it's okay for new members of the group to be complete amateurs.  Doesn't matter if they've sold anything, doesn't matter if they've yet to produce a salable manuscript.  The trick is, do they have the will?  Are they going to take critique, revise those stories, submit those stories, take the inevitable rejection letters in stride, and keep on going?  Those are the marks of a winner. Sharon joined our group with a couple of novel sales under her belt, and Tom had a short story sale, but the rest of us started with the group with no sales. Rule 2: New members don't have to be great writers and certainly don't have to be published. They just have to have the drive to succeed.

Your members have to submit their work to the group on a regular basis.  When most of us were doing short stories, the rule was to submit something at least every other month.  Now that we're mostly writing novels, that rule has largely fallen by the wayside.  Still, we do keep a check on each other to keep up on what everyone's doing.  Originally, the rule to join the group was to submit a novel or three short stories - this was to make sure the person applying for membership was serious enough to start and finish their projects.  Even if the stories were awful, just the fact that the person was producing arcs that had beginnings, middles, and ends, was the important thing.  Rule 3: Practice, practice, practice. You won't get better if you're not producing words on the page.

When a work is being critiqued, it is the work that is being critiqued, not the writer. People who critique other people are "sharks" and should be avoided. Personal comments are a no-no. A critique is personal enough, it should not be an attack. Nor should the writer defend him/herself.  Take the criticism, weigh it and see how it feels to you, then take it or discard it. To this end, we have the "bother factor" in our group.  If something only bothered one person, it's probably okay.  If two or more people noticed a problem, you'd probably better think seriously about changing something.  If everyone had the same problem, you'd better make sure you change it. Rule 4: Critique the work, not the writer. Your comments should help the writer make the work better or what's the point?

The Alternate Historians used to meet monthly at a member's house at 11:00 a.m. on a Saturday.  We meet until we're finished. Once it was 11:00 p.m. (was that a long day!). One time we did two novels in one day, and though we finished, I think, by 7:00 p.m., we were very, very fried by that time.  Nowadays we meet on Friday evenings around 6:00 and finish anywhere between 10:00 and 12:00.  Whoever is having stuff critiqued is responsible for getting their work to the rest of the group, giving the rest of the group adequate time to go through it.

Things the Alternate Historians do not do that other writing groups may do, including critiquing partial novels and reading out loud.  You won't be there at the editor's desk to read your work to them, so there's no reason for you to read it to the group.  Also, with rare exceptions, we generally do not allow visitors.  Having one's stuff critiqued is hard enough without going through it in front of strangers.

We hope these pointers can help you start a writers group of your own if that's what you want to do. It takes a lot of work and a certain blend of personalities for the thing to fly, but if it does fly, there'll be no stopping you! 

ave the Alternate Historians ever tried writing exercises to help them?

Actually, yes, we have.  One exercise utilized in the first years of the group's existence was for everyone to write a story beginning with the line, "And then the dragon came."  Another time, everyone was to write a Halloween-themed story beginning with the line, "The first one came at three a.m."  One thing you'll discover if you try this, is that no one will write the same story as anyone else, even if the theme, format, and first line are designated by the exercise.  In our "the first one came at three a.m." exercise, "the first one" ended up being zombie trick-or-treaters, corpse lilies, and the howls of werewolf cowboys.  And now, even though you've been told all of these things about our exercise, even if you use the first line and the theme, you'll end up with your own unique short story.  Sometimes, doing something like this can help members who are in a rut try something new, or can give those stuck in the middle of a big project something smaller to work on.

ow can I get into your group?

Alternate Historians seem to be asked this question a lot, so finding a competent writers group is obviously important to a lot of new writers.  Unfortunately, we have no openings at this time.  You can often find writers groups online by typing "writers groups" and the name of your city into a search engine.  A few of the groups we have found like this are listed on the links page. 

However, no matter which group you find -- or even start -- remember that the most important things about writing groups are respect, dedication, loyalty, and lots of hard, hard work.