Writers Groups: What Can They Do for You? 2/13/03

Questions from the Audience are presented in red.
Answers by the Speaker are in black.
The Moderator's comments are in blue.

Mary Rosenblum

Welcome to our regular Thursday Professional Connection!


Tonight, we welcome Patsy DeClue, here in the LRWG auditorium. With a master's degree in education with emphasis in guidance & counseling, she taught 28 years in public schools in St. Louis County. She was the 1996 president of the Jefferson County Writers' Guild and, this past year, founded the Writers' Society of Jefferson County. She was recently re-elected president for the 2003 term. A member of the Missouri Writers' Guild since l993, she is serving her second-term as a member of the board of directors for the MWG - 2001-2002 and will serve as Historian for the 2003 term. Pat is the ByLine Magazine State Representative for Missouri. She has also published more than 200 articles and poems in newspapers and magazines since l993 and has freelanced for three independent newspapers. Currently she is freelancing for the Jefferson County Leader Newspaper Publications. Pat writes a regular column in two Leader publications profiling teachers in Jefferson County and also writes feature art.


She has great credentials with belonging to, running, and organizing writers groups,


and I think we can all learn something tonight!


Patsy, welcome!

Patsy DeClue

Thank you.

Mary Rosenblum

So how did you get started writing?

Patsy DeClue

I believe I felt the burning desire to write when I was in high school.


It was then that I decided to be a "writer" but it took many years before I called myself one.

Mary Rosenblum

Gee, that sounds familiar! :-)


Did you belong to a writers group before you sold your first work?

Patsy DeClue

Yes, I went the traditional route of a career in teaching


but always took writer' courses throughout the years.


Definitely the interest was always there.

Mary Rosenblum

What kinds of groups did you belong to?

Patsy DeClue

I first belonged to a small group that wrote primarily poetry.


I did that for a long time, then got a tip on a job with a small newspaper.


I gained invaluable experience there.

Mary Rosenblum

Did you get the employment tip through your writers group?

Patsy DeClue

I then joined a county group affiliated with a regional group.


Yes I did. I never got paid the value of my worth but then they had an inexperienced writer.


From there I continued to keep my eyes open for opportunities to write.

Mary Rosenblum

So you really found that the main value of these early groups was contacts?

Patsy DeClue

Yes, and writing experience plus feedback on my material.

Mary Rosenblum

It seems to me that there are two types of writers groups --


groups that mainly gather to exchange critiques --


and groups that are larger, and actually may put on conferences, and do other things than critique.


Is this what you've found?

Patsy DeClue

Over the last ten years I've learned that my needs were not totally meet with just one type of group.


I started out in the smaller critiquing sessions but wanted more general information about other genres than poetry and essay writing.


Too, I found groups were often not progressive in marketing and encouraging your manuscript to that stage.

Mary Rosenblum

You are making some very good points, and I think you have a sound consumer attitude.


What should a new writer look for in a group?

Patsy DeClue

That's why I toyed with the idea of a group that combined the two and, as a result, started up a group that included both.

Mary Rosenblum

Interesting. How has that worked?

Patsy DeClue

A new writer should look for a group that operates from many different levels.


For example, our group takes in beginner writers and professional writers.


Therefore, we need to have a broad sweep of activites and information to meet the needs of the individual participants.


We are very big on that and our other emphasis is that members share information. We learn from each other and step up the process of gathering information.

Mary Rosenblum

Sounds good! How large is your group?

Patsy DeClue

We started our group in Jan. 2002 and by December it had grown to 63 members.


We offer a general session with a motivation speaker or program and follow that session with


networking groups that break up into the individual genre areas. We add groups as we need them.


Some of those groups meet twice a month so that they can stay in touch and continue to critique manuscripts.

Mary Rosenblum

This sounds like a large and very well organized group!


Do you have any restrictions on membership?

Patsy DeClue

No, only a desire to write. We don't discourage anyone.


My intent was to offer a group that could function with two or two hundred. We are organized with Bylaws, newsletter,


membership directory, display tables, etc.

Mary Rosenblum

Have you encountered 'problem members', people who were harsh in their criticism, perhaps, and how turned in little or nothing?

Patsy DeClue

We have made it clear that we operate under the principal that we are there to learn from each other,


and that our atmosphere MUST be one of a positive constructive environment.


I would say that we have had one or two complaints but overall few people have complained.


What if you have a disruptive member, who really bothers people. What would you do?

Patsy DeClue

I would definitely confront that person in private. I think the group has worked


because it is open-ended. If writers have complaints they have every opportunity to express that complaint on a questionnaire


that is handed out at each meeting, or in a suggestion box.


Honestly, we have never had anyone openly make a negative statement. Pretty unreal, right!

Mary Rosenblum

Wow. I'm impressed.

Patsy DeClue

I'm not bragging at any level. I just absolutely love being with writers and we have


a wonderful core of people on the Board of Directors and on many committees.


I truly believe the emphasis is making people feel they belong and giving them every opportunity to share,


either in the general session, or the genre groups, and my phone number is always available at


every meeting and in the newspapers for a contact discussion.

Mary Rosenblum

Chatty Lady mentioned that she belongs to a general writers group, but knows of a Romance only group. She wanted to know which is better? General or single genre only.

Patsy DeClue

It definitely depends on how serious she is about Romance writers.


Again, I must emphasize. Many groups are small and try to deal with critiquing material of all kinds.


We believe in being in with your own genre group for specific needs.


I call our networking (critiquing groups) satellite groups because our members


have the freedom to move from group to group depending on what they are working on.


Whatever group they're in they must share information and ask for help in their own area.

Patsy DeClue

In answer to which group to belong to, I say try them both out and see how they are structured and where they can best get their needs met.


That's what it comes down to -advancing yourself .


What forms of "etiquette" should novice writers be aware of to participate effectively within a writers' group?

Patsy DeClue

We must always consider the feelings of others but never "sugar coat."


We are there to speak in a positive constructive manner. The critiquing can hurt until you get used to the fact that writers are "kindred spirits' who can be trusted.


I find that people who are negative usually drop out because they lose interest more than stir trouble.


We always emphasize intent, purpose, and focus on why they are in the group.


Do you know of any writer's groups in eastern Idaho? Salt Lake is a 3 hour drive from here.

Patsy DeClue

No, I live in Missouri. I suggest you start one yourself on a small scale - not with the promotion way ours started up.


I believe you could check with your library, perhaps get into and pose that question,


or subscribe to writer's magazines and look for a lead.

Mary Rosenblum

I was going to ask you if there was some kind of central index for writers groups?

Patsy DeClue

I’m not aware of one. Perhaps someone in the audience can answer that.

Mary Rosenblum

Actually, a search for writers groups on Google might be productive!


What is your opinion of online writing groups?

Patsy DeClue

I believe wholeheartedly that whatever works is better than no connections with other writers.


Some people don't have the time to attend meetings and some people, like the last audience participant, could certainly benefit from that.


Another approach, and we encourage this in our group, is to go to the "buddy" system. Although I belong to the non-fiction group,


and moderate that group, I also have a buddy in fiction whom I meet with to encourage each


other, to share information, and to critique. I also belong to one of our poetry groups


that is a branch off of our group but meets two nights a month in a centrally


located area for the members. I write as a profession and enjoy different genres.

chatty lady

I found the group I attend posted on the bulletin board at Barne & Noble, try local bookstores maybe.

Patsy DeClue

Great, I just couldn't come up with that anwer. I went blank. We do put flyers around in our county


and people have joined from seeing them. Also the newspapers advertise.

Mary Rosenblum

It there is a large writers conference in the area, you should be able to find flyers from local groups.


I hesitate to join a group. As a novice, I wonder what, if anything, I could possibly contribute to a group of writers who have much more experience than myself.

Patsy DeClue

You could give them the opportunity to help you at your needs level.


Writers further along the path are nice people in general and offer information freely. There are always exceptions. Also you could work on a publicity committee,

Patsy DeClue

help set up the room, be a greater, make someone else feel less frightened,


all along watching and learning and studying. Soon someone will be asking you for information.


Don't worry about it. Consider you burning desire and don't let anyone put out that flame!

Mary Rosenblum

And I'd like to put my two cents in here, too, and say that some of the most valuable comments I've received


on my stories has sometimes come from very new writers.


You don't have to be a published author to be a good reader and critiquer!


We're talking about starting a group, but we want to limit members. How best can we do that?

Patsy DeClue

Right. You find your enthusiasm helps move you along. New writers want to learn. We were all there. No one has escaped being a new kid on the block. Sorry for that poor example, but we must remember


that when we get to a point that we think we know more than someone else.


I suggest you have a juried group. Those are probably the most intense groups and they don't coffee klatch, which we don't do either, but


that kind of group wants to work generally in one area and they want people in them who


know what they are doing. For the most part, writers who don't know the mechanics are always encouraged


to take a class in their weak area, or are offered specific books to read, etc...


I found, even though I belonged to a group, no one was going to teach me. I had to take professional courses. It's so important to do your own work on yourself, also.


Sorry, I don't know what is meant by a "juried group". Could you expand on this, please?

Patsy DeClue

Yes, a writer who wants to be active in your group will submit a manuscript that the group.


The group looks for your knowledge of the basics, such as proper format, grammar, the qualities of their particular genre.


Some people write because they have a desire to express themselves, but to write professionally, you must know the basics.


Once they critique your work, they let you know if they are interested in


working with you. Sometimes groups don't want to get beyond a certain count in members.


My goal was to offer an informational forum for writers and to be a service group for the community. We are always being asked to speak, go into classrooms and work with children, participate in workshops, etc.


Do you know of a good grammar book that isn't obtuse?

Patsy DeClue

One of our guest speakers wrote and spoke on this book, I believe written at the sixth grade level:


Hand-On English by Fran Hamilton. E-mail me at and I'll give you the address and ordering info.


She also had a newsletter on-line and I can give that to you, also.


May I suggest that people who need help with grammer check out homeschooling resources? There are self-teaching courses available for any level from elementary through high school.

Patsy DeClue

Good. Also the writers' magazines carry good articles on grammar.


Pinckert's Practical Grammar by Robert C. Pinckert is one and The Wordwatcher's Guide to Good Writing & Grammar by Morton S. Freeman is another.


Of course, the standard is Strunk and White, Elements of Style.

Mary Rosenblum

Good advice. Patsy, where do you hold your meetings? You must need quite a bit of space!

Patsy DeClue

We started out in a conference room in a library and outgrew that within two months.


I asked around and also checked with the library personnel and they suggested contacting


our local hospital. We now meet in one of the conference rooms at the hospital.


They set up the room for us. It's wonderfully large. We pay them a s,a;; donation each month for the use of the facility and for setting up the room.

Mary Rosenblum

I never would have thought of a hospital!!


Some banks rent community rooms for very little money.

Patsy DeClue

Yes, and also well established community organizations such as VFW halls, etc.


So what is the purpose of a writers group exactly? I thought that it was to give moral and knowledgeable support, for the most part. Is it also to collaborate on individual pieces of work, as well?

Patsy DeClue

Definitely but I believe you must recognize why the person writes and respect their intent.


In our bylaws we say the following: The specific purposes for which this association is formed are:


to provide a trusting atmosphere where writers can come together to meet their individual needs and share information for the good of the whole,


to offer strong motivational programs of interest to all writers,


to provide the opportunity for writers to network at several levels according to their needs,


to provide an environment that inspires, motivates, enriches, informs, and encourages members to strive toward publication of their work (we do encourage publication of work),


and to further provide networking (critiquing) groups so members can hone their writing skills in specific genres.


I looked at this website as a writer's group of sorts, do I have the right idea?

Patsy DeClue

I have found that writers (myself definitely included) must always find ways to learn and connect with other writers, whether


you call it a writers group, club, buddy system., etc. I just believe we need each other along the way.


It's comforting for me to have an outlet for my frustrations, joys, and rejections, and to get encouragement


from people who understand. On this website you are voicing an opinion, posing a question, participating.


It can be a lonely and defeating world unless we network from time to time and encourage each other. I hope something I've said or will say will be encouraging.


One of my friends said she wasn't going to send in her poem to the regional conference competition because she just didn't want to take the time to do it.


I told her to get that poem in the mail and share her wonderful talents. She did and then thanked me for caring and encouraging her.

chatty lady

AMEN to that because if you’re not a writer you'll never understand what its like.

Patsy DeClue

Writers are a rare breed – outside of my writer friends, I seek little feedback because I know that


the general public (meaning husbands, relatives, etc.) aren't trained to read as readers and writers.


Yes, I agree. It's important to find writer's groups. Most people I know don't read except what they must.

Patsy DeClue

Yes, and most people don't read the byline to see who wrote what.


I read the name before I read the article. That makes me a writer, I guess. Ha.


How can I go about letting other writers out there know that there is a writers group starting? We need more writers!

Patsy DeClue

I first advertised in the newspaper with a brief article that said I was having an


informational meeting on starting up a writer's group.


I paid to meet at our community college and 8 people showed up.


I drew up a questionnaire that included everything I could think of


that would give me information about the writers interest, etc.


then I asked them for names of people they knew who might be interested.


From there I had another meeting with those same people and we formed our group with


everyone there volunteering to take an office or be a board member.


That was the beginning. Then I sent out around


80 informational letters (I had taught writing in an adult ed. program so had those names also)


and announced our first general meeting. Then I notified the newspapers, spread the news word of mouth, etc.


I thought we would have ten or fifteen com. We had 44 eager writers walk in the door.


Be prepared. If you open your meeting up to the community, you just might hit a nerve of those eager to meet other writers.


It was wonderful and I work very hard daily to keep it all organized.


You may not want something on such a scale.

Mary Rosenblum

Print up a flyer and post it in all your local bookstores and branch libraries! You can meet in a library meeting room. I suspect you'll find LOTS of interest!


As Patsy said, perhaps more than you bargain for!

Patsy DeClue

Flyers always work - we now have a publicity director and she's getting the word out in that way.

chatty lady

Why do you need a Board of Directors etc. why not just the group getting together informally without so much fuss?

Patsy DeClue

I remember when I started out how starved I was to connect to other writers.


I try to remember that with each person who walks in the door.


It's not a fuss at all. We believe, they way we approached this, that we must have everything in place.


Certainly groups do meet informally.


We are also affiliated with the Missouri Writers' Guild and we are a chapter that wants to touch the lives of as many writers as we can.


I've served on the board of the MWG for two years and will be their Historian next year. It's all about connections, in my opinion.


Your comment about encouraging your members to strive toward publication of their work, is a strong selling point of writers' groups for me. My buddy-system, with another novice writer, is lacking in this area. We both share the same reticence about ACTUALLY submitting our work. Would you suggest we both look for other groups that might help us overcome this shortfall of our ambition?

Patsy DeClue

There' s no way around it. Publishing is a lot of work. It takes all you strength to deal with.


the particulars you meet along the way.


Writers groups might encourage you or might not. I soon left groups that only wanted to read their work out loud,


critique on the spot and never get to publishing. It's still hard.


Find yourself a group that had a mission statement, a purpose, goals, or set one up yourself and keep that focus.


I really don't like the organizational end of it but it does work and it keeps people professional.

Patsy DeClue

I like to think professionally, dress professionally, feel professional. I still have self-doubt but


taking yourself to a higher level in your mind gives you the strength to deal with rejections. We applaud rejections in our group because


a rejection says you tried.

Mary Rosenblum

Good advice, Patsy. And what is YOUR responsibility to a writers group, when you join?

Patsy DeClue

To seek out answers to your own needs and to share information. Our members are offered the opportunity

Patsy DeClue


Patsy DeClue

to share in the newsletter, even if it is just an encouraging saying.


Any advice or cautions for starting and administrating an effective writers' group?

Patsy DeClue

They can pose questions, read their work in a special time slot, be on a committee, help clean up the room after a meeting, etc.


Yes, know why you are starting up your group. Write a mission statement or purpose or goals, but stick to your focus.


Don't let it get out of hand - start on time, follow a procedure that moves the meeting along. In our networking genre groups, each group


has a different approach because of the nature of the material. They needs to also be established. Some people


will only want to talk. It is your goal to move forward in writing.


One good activity to use is to ask each person what their "take away" is from a meeting. That helps keep the meeting on task.


I can't tell you enough that support and encouragement and treating each other


in a kind and human way is so necessary in groups like this.


People do get their feeling hurt, etc. but I have


learned, over the years, to get somewhat of a tough skin.


I cried a lot in the beginning. My first rejection from an editor sent me to bed for a week.


That's how serious I took it. I had fallen in love with my work.


Groups need to exist to help you through those times. When I decided I couldn't get anywhere by feeling sorry for myself, I decided to take a writing course and get on with it.


That was the best decision I ever made (Writer's Digest School) and I've encouraged writers to take classes, etc. ever since.



Yep. Never carpool with someone who can't take a critique. You'll never get another ride!

Patsy DeClue

There are a million stories out there. The bottom line is…


Expect what you want, then work hard to get it! Don't let anyone get you down.


Your focus should be on what your needs are in the field of writing. When you get away from that


you get yourself in trouble and waste time you could be writing.

Mary Rosenblum

Does a group need one person in charge in order to be a strong and stable group?

Patsy DeClue

Some writers may not need a group, everything depends on everything else. Does that make sense?

Mary Rosenblum

I've seen quite a few groups dissolve after a couple of years.

Patsy DeClue

I believe they do. Someone needs to take the lead. I've been in several groups and I don't like to waste time anymore. I'm getting too old.

Mary Rosenblum

Is this why a mission statement is important?

Patsy DeClue

Groups dissolve because they don't stay open-ended and offer something for everyone. Somehow I believe, so far, the formula I came up with at the beginning is working but I do believe


a level of commitment needs to eventually be established by the members. This group could dissolve, but


I will do everything I can to keep it going until I'm out of office, which will be in December.


For me, when I have left a group I realized I had gone as far as I could with that group and wasn't getting my needs met.


Maybe I haven't stumbled upon a magical formula but so far it is working.


We share websites, resources, e-mail each other. It takes commitment and, again, it all depends on what people want.


That's why I constantly seek out opinions. We try anything that looks sound and beneficial. Some of our members wanted to do readings, so we designated


a half hour before our meeting for those who wanted to come then and participate. It worked!

Mary Rosenblum

That's great, Patsy. And you've offered us some very sound advice about writers groups.

Patsy DeClue

Thank you.

Mary Rosenblum

We really appreciate your time! Any new work out that you'd like to tell us about, while you're here?

Patsy DeClue

Not in book form but I'm working on a historical novel as a challenge,


because I want to keep moving into unknown territory.


May I say that no writer's group will meet a writer’s total needs.


I encourage the buddy system, taking classes, going to workshops, attending conferences, using the internet.


When you depend just on the writer's group, you don't grow as completely as you could be meeting new people and seeking out new resources.


It's an ongoing process, one that never ends and the most exciting field to be in because


there is always more to learn.

Mary Rosenblum

Very cool. I am always impressed with writers who take on the enormous research task of historical fiction. Gail has one final question and then we'll let you rest your fingers.


Do your members submit their work to the group(s) prior to your meetings so members have an opportunity to make an informed critique? How is that brought about?

Patsy DeClue

We first of all encourage proper format. In the non-fiction and fiction groups


members bring in four or five copies of their manuscript and pass them out.


The members take the manuscripts home and critique them. Then they bring them back to the next meeting


and each person who is critiqued gets the opportunity to go over the manuscript out loud in front of the whole group.


Tremendous learning takes place this way. We don't rewrite anyone's work. We suggest they rewrite a sentence.


Then the author gets a chance to speak and make specific comments. All those manuscripts are given back and


that writer can take the suggestions and use them or ignore them. We give those members another opportunity to rewrite


and resubmit. They we encourage them to send them out to a market.


I made up forms we attach to the manuscript that has a place for comments, what the author wants specific help with, suggested markets, etc.


It's still hard for some people to send to an editor. There again, each person must make that decision.


In the poetry group we read our work out loud, critique, and often send it with the members for further critiquing.


You have to keep learning what works and what doesn't and agree to work together for the betterment of the group.

Mary Rosenblum

That's the way most critique groups do it, I've found, the one I belong to, included. The forms are a cool idea. Thank you, Patsy, for sharing so much excellent information and experience with us.



Mary Rosenblum

You have been a great guest! I hope you come back again.


Thanks from ALL of us!


We enjoyed it and we learned from it!

Patsy DeClue

You’re welcome!! Appreciate that. I really do try to help others along this well worn path and if I made a difference, that makes me feel I've accomplished another good thing.

Mary Rosenblum

Good night, and have a great weekend! If I can figure out how to teleport from Oregon, I'll join your group!


It sounds great.

Patsy DeClue

Would love to have you. Thank you, again. I've enjoyed every minute.

Mary Rosenblum

We did, too!


Thanks so much, Patsy!

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