It’s one of the best decisions I made years ago.
But perhaps you’re wondering, what exactly is a writing group? Most broadly, it is a group of writers who meet regularly to discuss and provide feedback on each other’s work.
Member diversity in thought, background and genre is essential. My writing group consists of fiction writers who work in high and low fantasy, hyperrealism and suspense. It keeps the sessions fresh and helps catch some of your mistakes. Once, I wrote about a character putting on makeup, and one of my female colleagues kindly explained that I had it all wrong.
There are three benefits to being part of a writing group: feedback, accountability and camaraderie.
The most obvious benefit is that when you join a writing group, you receive feedback on work-in-progress. After all these years, I’m still amazed and grateful that people are happy to read early drafts of my work, critique it, answer questions and generally want to help me improve it. And I love doing the same for the other members.
Partners, friends and family are great–God bless them if they’re willing to read draft after draft!– but readers must have the objectivity and emotional detachment to critique your work honestly. With the group, you can write what you want without judgement, to experiment without embarrassment.
A note on feedback: The writing is ultimately yours. Sometimes the feedback is spot on; other times, it’s not. Do with it what you will, but in the first instance, listen to it.
Being accountable to a group of people pushes you to write. Try as we might to write every day, life happens. The cat needs to go to the vet; there are family obligations; we must make dinner. Having deadlines ensures that you get something onto the page.
There’s also the encouragement that comes from the group. Not just when a piece works and other writers praise it, but also when work needs to be improved. We all know when something we write isn’t working, but we don’t always know why. We read the piece aloud, we take notes and we revise. Yet, still, it’s just not there. Here’s where the group comes in, helping to identify what’s not working and sometimes even offering solutions.
Everyone knows writing is generally a solitary endeavour (housepets and writing for TV excepted). Joining a writing group is an antidote. It’s a place to celebrate each other’s accomplishments and also to commiserate when things aren’t going great, professionally or personally.
That’s really to say that writing groups are not just about writing. Your peers become your friends.
How they work
Establishing a process is also essential. In my group, the members submit their pieces five days before the meeting. The top of the first page has any background information or context about the work necessary for the reader.
It’s helpful to have a word limit. Otherwise, you may get inundated, and it helps ensure everyone receives the proper feedback. My group has a word limit of around 1200 words. If someone wants to submit a longer piece, we agree to it beforehand. One of our best sessions was reviewing a writer’s 75,000-word novel.
Remember: Feedback is a gift to be given and received with grace.