When I opened my copy of the Autumn issue of The New Writer earlier today (http://www.thenewwriter.com/) I was rather surprised to see how many times my name appeared. It was nine times if anyone other than me is interested, even beating the great Simon Whaley (Hi Simon!) who was only mentioned seven times, although I'm happy to accept a re-count if he insists on one.
On a more serious note, the reason for this unusual proliferation was because a while back, I had a piece published in the open "rant" slot of TNW explaining why, in my opinion, professional writers shouldn't belong to writers' groups. I admit I had my Polly Toynbee hat on at the time and was trying to be a bit controversial but nevertheless, I stand by everything I said in that piece.
Much to my surprise, someone agreed with me. Someone also strongly disagreed with me, saying I had been"extremely patronising" and expressing great relief that I wasn't a member of their writers' group (I'm a pussy-cat really!) but isn't that the point of good journalism?
The someone who agreed with me was Roger Harvey who wrote a full page in response to my "rant", beginning by congratulating me on having the courage to speak out against writers' groups and TNW on having the courage to print my views. I realise I wasn't being congratulated on having the courage to speak out against apartheid or illegal phone tapping but it's the first time I've ever been congratulated for speaking "the truth" so thank you very much for that, Roger.
Anyway, the reason I'm blogging about this is not to boast (honestly!) but because I think the question about the use and validity of writers' groups for professional writers is a subject that should be up for "healthy debate" just like any other topic. Yes, there will be many people who disagree with my views especially as, in my opinion, the writing trade magazines seem keen to promote the idea that belonging to a writers' group is definitely the thing to do if you want to become a writer.
I don't actually disagree with that, as I said in my original article. It's just that I totally agree with Roger when he says that membership of certain kinds of writers' groups is definitely not "a reliable route to publication and success". In fact I would go one step further by saying that it can even hold your writing career back or keep it "stuck" in a less than desirable place.
So my (controversial!) view is that by all means join a group to help kick-start your writing career but once you've made it onto a respectable rung of the ladder, don't be looking to the cosy confines of a writers' group to help you move up even further.
If you still think I'm wrong, ask yourself if you honestly feel that it is a good idea to mention in a covering letter to an editor or agent that you belong to a writers' group, unless you are writing about writers' groups, of course. And if that fails to change your mind, try the litmus test for all writing-related questions. Would JK Rowling belong to a writers' group?
I'm off now to hire a handsome bodyguard to defend me against any brickbats that might be coming my way but I'd love to hear your views on "the truth that dare not speak its name" so do get in touch. (Oh, and to make up for having a little bit of fun at Simon Whaley's expense, here is a link to his excellent website http://www.simonwhaley.co.uk/)