Why all amazing writers have writing groups

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A writers group around the table workshopping

Writing is lonely. And most of the time it suits me that the only interactions I have in a day are of the imaginary or the four-legged variety. But sometimes – especially those times when I dump everything I’ve written into the trash – it’s nice to meet up with people in my writing group – people who understand what I’m going through, who can shine a light into the dark and get me passionate about what I’m doing again. Because let’s face it, writing can be hard!

Writing groups are great because they:

  • Keep you accountable and motivated.
  • Give you an opportunity to grow as a writer alongside other writers.
  • Allow you to expose your work to people with different experiences and ideas.
  • Give you a way to bounce ideas around and problem solve.
  • Help you to not only accept feedback, but love it.
  • Force you to see your work in a new light.
  • Help you find your voice.
  • Give you an opportunity to hear your work read aloud.
  • Allow you to share your knowledge and help others achieve their dreams.
  • Teach you new skills and techniques you can apply to your own work.
  • Keep you connected to the writing world. In my group we have one amazing member who is super organised and always keeps us up to date on the latest workshops and talks – thanks, Sharon!

I love my writing group

The story of my writing group coming together plays out a little like a romance novel. Once upon a time we meet at a writing class. We have an instant connection and get swept up in each other, sharing our work, going to talks, having dinner. And then bam! Just as suddenly our members are dropping faster than characters in a George RR Martin novel. We break up, we try and move on because it just wasn’t working. Why?

I guess each one of us would highlight different reasons for our ‘break up’ but for me I think it was the following:

  • We’d loved our writing class so much that we tried to emulate it in our meetings. The thing was the dynamic had changed and this was no longer feasible.
  • We were all a little too sensitive when it came to receiving feedback.
  • We had a schedule for bringing in a piece of writing instead of allowing this to happen organically. It meant each of us were under pressure to bring something to workshop on our week and weren’t allowed to bring something in on a different week.
  • Work was emailed out before our meeting which made workshopping feel like homework.
  • Because we wanted somewhere quiet to discuss our work we met at each other’s houses. This created way too much pressure for the ‘host’.

I’m not saying that any of the above things we did are wrong for all writer’s groups, they were just wrong for us.

During our ‘break up’

One other writer (and now fabulous published author, Wanda Wilshire) and I stayed really close. We met up for editing days where we would workshop each other’s writing and afterwards we’d both feel refreshed and like we could tackle any writing obstacle that came our way.

“You have to watch Shadowlands,” she’d say every time we met. “We need to get everyone back together and just meet up like CS Lewis and Tolkien – at a pub or something and focus on giving each other feedback and making each other’s work shine.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I’d say not believing it was possible.

Luckily (unlike me) Wanda didn’t give up and our group decided to have another go. This time we were a lot more successful – even adding to our number with new members.

But why did we get our happy ending this time?

Again I bet each of us would all have our own reasons, but for me it’s because of the following:

  • Most importantly, like any good relationship we decided to trust each other.
  • We now realise when someone critiques our work they’re not having a go at us personally – they’re actually doing us a favour and trying to help! I for one love going home with comments written all over whatever I’ve taken in – it means less work for me when I’m editing.
  • At the beginning of each meeting we go round the group and talk about our writing challenges and successes – this get’s the ball rolling and allows us to support each other – through the bad and the amazing.
  • We see the value in workshopping each other’s work and acknowledge the skills we develop from this process.
  • We have no rules for bringing work for feedback. Sometimes 3 people bring something and sometimes it’s 6. We usually get through them all and we do impose a 2 page limit. If someone is submitting something to a publisher, journal or competition we’ll start with their piece.
  • We don’t pre-send writing for workshopping, instead one person will read it to the rest of the group on the night.
  • Many of us meet up for dinner first to get all our gas bagging out of our system before we begin.
  • We meet bi-weekly in a public place so members aren’t stressed about cleaning up their houses instead of writing.

Now instead of a domino effect of losing members we’ve got a domino effect of getting published!

Starting your own group

Before you begin, some questions you need to ask are:

  • What do you and the other members want to get out of it?
  • How often can you meet? For a small group it can be hard to keep the commitment of meeting too often but you want to meet regularly enough that you maintain momentum.
  • Where will you meet and when?
  • Will you share contact information so you can meet outside of scheduled meetings? This works for my group as we’re constantly sending each other information and inviting one another to attend writing talks and workshops.
  • How big will the group be and what are the rules for membership?
  • What kinds of work will the group read and how do you submit work for feedback?
  • Are you going to set up a social media page or group so members can chat online, stay motivated and share progress? Aside from my writing group I’m part of a facebook group where we share our word count each day and I find it both inspires and keeps me accountable.

Rules for critiquing each other’s work

This is a big question and one of the most important to address if you want to keep everyone happy. In my group we don’t have any formal rules but we do follow certain unspoken guidelines which include:

  • Responding first and foremost to the story as a reader. What parts worked for you? How did it make you feel? Even if you don’t understand why you had a certain response this can be very helpful for the writer of the piece to understand.
  • Acknowledge your biases and explain this to the author.
  • Try and see what the author is aiming to achieve and tailor feedback to assist them with this. It helps too if members submitting work ask the other members specific questions or highlight what they would like help with– eg do you think the dialogue sounds realistic?
  • Keep in mind each writer’s sensibilities and personalities. Each member will need you to approach them in a different way.
  • Critique the story, not the author!

How do you find a writing group?

Like my group, many writing groups evolve as a result of meeting through workshops and courses. It’s a great way of connecting with other writers with similar interests as you.

If this hasn’t happened for you another option would be to send out requests to your local writing centre or library outlining you’re looking for a group. Make sure you keep an eye out on online platforms such as Craigslist and Meetup.com

As C.S. Lewis said,

“The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.”

No one is going to understand a writer like another writer. We often share experiences and interests other non-writers just don’t get – and isn’t that the point of relationships? To be with those who truly understand you? Who see you?

No one is going to understand a writer like another writer. Click To Tweet

Have you got a writing group? Has being part of a group improved your writing? What do you think the benefits of being in a writing group are? Let me know in the comments.

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