The Importance of Online Writing Groups

By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin

For many years I've been an active participant in several online groups. Some of my writing colleagues have criticized those efforts and wondered why I did it. I see the importance of these online groups in a number of areas and want to capture some of those reasons in this article.
One of the groups where I'm active began in September 2001 (yes the month when the September 11th attack came). The person that began this group selected different “panelists” to lead discussion in various areas of publishing. I have been participating in these discussions for over 20 years. The format is simple. Each week one of the panelists lead the discussion on a single topic. There are several hundred writers in this group and some weeks have much more active participation than others. The posts are stored on the site and have created a rich resource of ideas and teaching.
I participate in these groups as a way to give back to the writing community. As a writer I've learned so much (and continue to learn) from others. This group is a way to pass to others what I've learned. It's also a place to learn from others. Through the years I've gained great insights from what others have written in this group.
For example, last week I led the discussion and focused on writing for Sunday School Take Home Papers. Admittedly Sunday schools have been declining for years but there is still a group of these denominational publications. The editors produce 52 issues or one for each week instead of a monthly publication. They take nonfiction, how-to articles but also short stories (fiction). It's a wonderful place for new writers to break into the market and begin to learn about publishing. In our discussion last week we covered a variety of topics related to this topic including which publications, reprints, theme lists and much more. 
The participants in these online groups come from all over the world. I know one of our active members is an American but living overseas. If you aren't in an online group, you can search groups on yahoo or Goodreads or any number of places. Many organizations have their own online groups where you can participate. I recommend this resource as another way to be growing and learning as a writer. 
Do you participate in an online writing group? How did you find it and why do you participate? I look forward to reading your experiences in the comments.