Participating in a genealogy writers’ group

Writers in all genres traditionally use writers’ groups to help them become stronger writers. Writers’ groups can take many forms, from those that meet strictly online to those that meet in person and read their writing out loud. Whether you write short articles or novels, science fiction or poetry, a writers’ group offers support, criticism, and motivation to working writers.

Genealogists produce a lot of writing. Research reports. Narrative genealogies. “How-to” articles. Book reviews. Case studies. Blog posts. The list goes on. No matter what kind of writing you are working on, a writers group can offer the same support, criticism, and motivation to genealogists that it would offer to a science fiction novelist.

So how do you join a writers’ group?

The easiest way is to check your local genealogical society. Many active societies have special interest groups (SIGs) that focus on writing. Take a look at the following examples:

Does your genealogical society have a writers’ group or writing special interest group? If not, why not see if other members are interested in starting one?

Online writers’ groups are another option. Do you have a group of fellow genealogists that you correspond with on a regular basis? Whose opinions you respect? Even if you live on opposite sides of the country, you can still form a writers’ group.

When forming your own writers’ group, you will want to consider the following factors:

1. Who should you invite to join?

Writers’ groups, by definition, should be able to both offer and accept constructive criticism of their work.

If any member gets offended by constructive criticism, no one will be able to be honest, and the group as a whole will suffer. On the other hand, if any member is unwilling to give a “brutally honest” critique, then what you have is a cheerleading squad, not a writers’ group.

For this reason, it is very important that you have a good relationship with everyone in your group. No one can allow their feelings to get hurt. At its best, a writers’ group should offer the same level of criticism as the editor who makes the decision whether or not to publish your article when you submit it. Believe me, they do not care whether they hurt your feelings. Editors just want to publish the best writing possible.

And of course, how many members will you have? Will you accept new members if they come along? What are the limits? You have to establish this up front, or you could easily find yourself spending all your time critiquing others’ work, and no time doing your own writing.

2. How will you meet and offer feedback?

If you can’t meet in person, how will you share submissions? By email, with a dedicated shared DropBox folder, or another option?

Will you use Facebook? Twitter? Windows Live chat? Skype? Google+ Hangouts? A private mailing list?

Will you meet monthly for an hour? More than an hour? Less often or more often? Do you even need to all meet at the same time, or can members just post their writing and critiques online whenever they are ready?

Will you have a moderator or coordinator? Will you have set deadlines for submissions and critiques?

In other words, if you are setting up a writers’ group online, you have to consider the logistics. Not just those dealing with the schedules of the individual members, but also those dealing with the technology that you will use to facilitate the group.

3. What are your writing goals?

Do you want help writing a narrative family history that you will self-publish for your family? Or do you write numerous articles for magazines? It is important that you establish your own writing goals before endeavoring to join or start your own writers’ group.

Writers’ groups will help you with the moral support that you need to keep yourself motivated, to improve the quality of your writing, and to reach your writing goals. But that can only happen if you know what your goals are.

These are just a few tips for those among us who write about genealogy.

For more information on writers’ groups, from writers in other genres, read the following articles:

Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen, “7 Tips for Starting a Writers’ Group – Writing Alone, Writing Together,” Quips and Tips for Successful Writers blog, posted 14 May 2009 ( : accessed 21 January 2012).

Seth M. Baker, “How NOT to Start a Writers’ Group,” HappenChance blog, post not dated ( : accessed 21 January 2012).

Lisa Gates, “How to Start a Writing Critique Group,” Stepcase Lifehack blog, posted 4 March 2009[?] ( : accessed 21 January 2012).

Chuck Sambuchino, “7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting A Writers Group,” Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents Blog, in Writers Digest, posted 16 July 2010 ( : accessed 21 January 2012).

Kristen Lamb, “Can Critique Groups Do More Harm than Good?,” Kristen Lamb’s Blog, posted 16 January 2012 ( : accessed 21 January 2012).

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “Participating in a genealogy writers’ group,”Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 24 January 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

2 thoughts on “Participating in a genealogy writers’ group

  1. Hi Michael. I’ve been looking for a group where I can get constructive feedback on my research articles since I want to improve. I posed a question in the ‘Family History Writers’ Google+ Community of whether they do this sort of thing, but have only received one comment (also wanting the same thing). Is this a rare thing, or are people afraid of offering their work to be reviewed? I’m not US-based so I’m looking for a more international community.

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