Writing groups are groups of people coming together to talk about each others’ writing. Why is this important for a writer? And how does a writing group work.
If you spend a lot of time writing, and are not secretive about it, you are bound to run into other people who like writing. A natural progression of this, is to then come together and discuss said writing. That’s how writing groups are usually born.
The writing groups I’ve been in all met/meet on a semi-regular basis. That works best, I’ve found. For the one I’m currently in we don’t meet often, because we no longer live close together and some of us have children, and that results in massive amounts of writing to workshop at each session. When a group comes together, all the pieces of writing that were sent in will be workshopped.
What you get out of writing groups
Last week I had a meeting with my current writing group. It had been a while and they had not workshopped my latest story before. I left with a whole set of new insights into my own story.
When I spend a lot of time working on something, I have trouble seeing the bigger picture. I think many writers have this. Taking a step back, or looking at it from a different angle, is very hard. A writing group consists of multiple people who can do that for you. Reviewing other people’s work, and thinking about why you like or dislike their work will help improve your own skills as well.
Another advantage of writing groups is that regular meetings push you to write more. You feel bad, sitting at a meeting, having to admit you haven’t produced anything. It also forces you to share your work. This can be scary, especially in the beginning, but if you want your writing to be something more than a file deep in your hard drive, you’ll have to share it at some point.
Finally, I always come away from meetings with a lot of writing energy and inspiration. Because people liked what I’d written, or because they’ve given me ideas about what I can improve.
Some pitfalls in writing groups
For all the good that comes from writing groups, there are also some things to be careful of.
First off, beware groups where there are large differences in commitment or proficiency between the members. I’ve been in one group where most of the members would not write much, if anything, and barely a soul except me would review the works of others. I ended up putting effort into workshopping, but I was getting no feedback in return. Reviewing other people’s work is enlightening, of course, but it does take time away from your own writing.
I’ve also been in a group where everybody was just starting out, except me. A group like that hasn’t really gotten the hang of reviewing yet. This means most of the feedback consisted of typos and vague remarks of like or dislike. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help. Simply stating ‘dislike’ for a piece of writing will not help the author. Why is more much important. If you’re all learning this together, that will work fine. However, if you’re that odd one out with much more experience, you’re suddenly investing time and getting nothing in return.
A third pitfall is to take each remark as absolute truth. Writing is also a matter of taste. What one person might ‘get’ or love, another might deride and hate. Part of processing the feedback on a piece of writing is triage. You need to understand each piece of feedback, and decide if this is something you also think is a problem.
In short, you need a group of people that you trust, that know what they’re doing, and that will provide you as much value as you put in. If that’s not the case, you might want to say goodbye to that particular group. This can be hard, because the other members are often your friends, but remember that you don’t need to end your friendship, just your writing group. Heck, I ended up marrying a girl from my first writing group even though it disbanded a decade ago.
A writing group can really help improve your writing. It can provide valuable feedback, and improve your skills by looking at the work of others. It can also be a drain on your time.
Tread carefully, but don’t be afraid to give writing groups a go.