Does Your Writing Need a Boost? Join a Book Group! – by Wendy Hobday Haugh

Does Your Writing Need a Boost? Join a Book Group! – by Wendy Hobday Haugh

In the past, whenever I’d brainstorm ways to improve my writing skills, widen my professional network, and increase bylines and sales, the idea of joining a writers’ group would come to mind. But, joining a book group? Never! I steered clear of book groups for years, fearing the required reading would take precious time away from my own reading, writing, family commitments, and down time. But, after moving to a new town, and being encouraged by several residents to attend their book group’s monthly meeting, I decided to give it a try—and I’m so glad I did! Joining a library-based group has proven beneficial to my writing life in several unexpected ways.

Book groups provide an excellent opportunity, and legitimate excuse, to escape your work desk. Far too often freelance writing is a solitary affair, so getting out once a month and interacting with a bunch of people who value and enjoy the written word as much as I do is well worth the time and effort. It’s a bona fide literary effort—without the need to produce copy!

Book groups encourage us to explore new genres. Participating in a book group has compelled me to branch out and try new books and authors I probably would have overlooked, or skipped, on my own. As a result, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for a broader range of genres and writing styles.

Book groups demonstrate the diversity of readership. I’m continually impressed by the wide range of opinions that just one book—or one scene, even — can elicit among readers. Being privy to the observations, opinions, and interpretations of other readers has helped me become a more meticulous bookworm. I used to read superficially, largely for recreational escape. Now, I tackle books more analytically, noting thematic development, studying how the author weaves together action, dialogue, and internal monologue, and assessing what works for me, story-wise—and what doesn’t.

Realizing that my own readers are equally diverse has prompted me to study my writing more closely and view individual scenes and overall plot through a wider lens. Whether writing fiction or nonfiction, my aim is to write for the widest audience possible, without diluting the gist of my story.

Book groups provide a wealth of story ideas. Since book groups offer a refreshing mix of personalities and professional backgrounds, they can be a great source of networking. Once members learned that I write regularly for a glossy regional magazine, they started passing along leads for potential subjects. I’ve successfully pitched and written several of their story ideas thus far, with several more lined up for future issues. Thanks to this supportive group of readers, my writing network has widened and I’ve come to feel more a part of my new community.

Book groups can lead to other literary opportunities. Last year, I arranged to have a local author visit our book group for a special summertime event. Preceding the event, I pitched and got the go-ahead for a story about author Richard Matturro’s writing career and his passion for historic wooden rollercoasters. A few weeks before the event, when the article hit the stands, I delivered a stack of magazines to the library’s ‘free’ table. The story bolstered the library event, gave the author some welcomed press, and earned me a nice byline and check.

In our book group, each monthly meeting is led by a different member. So, if you’re looking to boost your speaking skills, book groups can provide a perfect, low-key opportunity. Recently, I’ve begun plans to offer a writing workshop at the library. It hasn’t been scheduled yet, but I credit my book group involvement for building my confidence and paving the way for this future event.

By joining a book group, I’ve found an enthusiastic tribe of readers, enjoyed invigorating discussions, and gleaned numerous networking tips. In addition to becoming a more intuitive reader and writer, I’ve even begun to manage my free time more effectively: more reading, less TV! Better yet, I’ve stepped away from my computer, made new friends, and had a ton of FUN! And, what freelance writer couldn’t use a little more of that?


A freelance writer and former piano teacher, Wendy Hobday Haugh’s short stories, articles, and poems have appeared in dozens of national and regional publications. Wendy lives with one husband, two frisky felines, and a herd of white-tailed deer in the Adirondack foothills of upstate New York.