Back in 2006, a young woman named Karolyn wrote to me and said, "I am new to writing and am thinking about joining a writers group, forum, or message board. I don't want to step on toes, what's the etiquette for such groups?"
It's been nearly six years since she asked that question, but the answer I gave her back then still applies today.
Each writing group has its own set of rules so be sure to check the membership guidelines. Most memberships guidelines are posted somewhere in the forum itself. If you can't locate a set of guidelines, don't be afraid to ask the moderator.
A few rules of thumb:
1. Always post private replies or simple praises and thank yous off list.
2. Always sign your name at the end of an email or post.
3. Keep your taglines short. Your tagline is the two to three sentence blurb under your name. It tells others about your product, service, or website.
4. Always change the heading of each post to match the topic of your discussion.
5. Don't spam list members. Don't think that because you conversed with one of the list members once that he or she will be interested in your home business, your eBay auction, or other money making scheme. Whether you email him or her privately as a solo email or as a group email, it's still spamming.
6. Don't spam the list. Don't send irrelevant messages through the lists. In other words, if it's a writing group, members do not want to read about the latest happenings in your household, forwarded messages from other groups or people you know, or any of those other emails that seem to find their way around the Internet for years and years.
7. Always cut out the part of the email you are replying to and use that as the beginning of your post. Don't leave the whole email in tact as it makes it difficult for others to read when on digest or when trying to understand your point.
8. If a post upsets you or you find you really disagree with what is being said. Stop, take a deep breath, and pray. Wait at least a half hour before posting, then reply. If you reply too soon, your anger or hurt feelings with take over. If you wait, you'll be able to send a more objective post and your post will come across in a more acceptable way.
9. Develop a bit of thick skin. People don't always come across nice in emails and if you don't have thick skin, it can sting.
10. Don't act one way on list and another way off list. In other words, don't be phony. Don't be kind to someone on list then privately email mean things to the person or act superior off list.
11. Stay teachable. Remember that everyone is a student. Even those with hundreds of published articles and/or books and those making a living as a writer full time can still learn something new. And just because someone has a master's degree and you just have a high school diploma, don't let him or her bully you off list. That doesn't make that person better than you.
12. Be willing to grow. Your writing can become stronger when you take critiques with a grain of salt. In the sense that you listen with an open mind, then you take what you can use and apply it to your work and what you can't use you ignore. Sometimes critiques of your work are based on fact such as rules of grammar and style and other times they are based on personal opinion. It's important to learn the difference between the two.
13. Accept differing opinions. Some people tend to think "It's my way or the highway." You have to just let that way of thinking slide right off your shoulders. There are always different ways of doing things and saying things. It's okay to be different, to want different things, and to do things differently. It's okay to change with the times.
14. Some writers are stuck in a certain mindset. They don't like change and don't take change very well. Some even consider certain changes beneath them. Don't let that rub you the wrong way. Understand that is the personality of that writer. Learn what you can from him or her, but you don't have to stay in the same mindset. It's okay to learn and grow and change with the times.
15. Handle people differently-according to his/her personality. My friend recently reminded me that just as Jesus used different methods of delivery when teaching people of his time, from rabbis to children to his apostles to those he healed, we must do the same. We must take into account the person asking the question and adjust our answers accordingly. And we must do the same with those who've given answers in which we have a reply or additional comment to make.
16. Don't just take, give back. So many people stay in lurk mode. They glean and glean and glean, but they rarely respond or take part in conversations. If you've been blessed with valuable information, as soon as you have wisdom to share, share it.
17. Remember that you joined the group to learn to become a professional writer and to make friends with your colleagues. If you feel, at any time, that the group is dragging you down or distracting you from your goal, it may be time to say goodbye and look for another group.