Like many scribblers, I’m a member of a local writing group and also attend a local creative writing workshop. The writing group meets once a month in a local pub, and it’s a very relaxed, low key affair over a drink or two. We are relatively organised – we leave each meeting with a theme or basis for the next month’s piece – but if someone doesn’t manage their piece (actually, a rare occurrence) they are not met with howls of derision or threats of being barred from the group (well, only in jest, anyway).
We read our pieces aloud to the group (and sometimes in the reading, expose the odd writing hitch – in itself a valuable exercise), and then await feedback. We are generally kind to each other – though I fancy we’ve become a little tougher as time has gone by. We try to be constructive and avoid just saying everything is excellent – though we’ve yet to reach the…erm…character-building level of creative shredding which often occurred in workshops during my MA! We are none of us top-notch writers – but we’re all keen to improve, and discuss the writing process.
The Creative Writing Workshop is a more structured affair held fortnightly, with (usually) two short exercises to complete during the hour, plus something longer to do as “homework” before the next session. As it is a relatively new group, we’ve only just started sharing these longer pieces with each other via email – and thus having time to make meaningful comments – but already it’s possible to see people’s work developing.
So is it all worth it? The short answer is, yes. Simply having a deadline, a theme, and an audience one does not wish to disappoint often makes the writing come alive. And perhaps because we are not overly harsh critics of one another, I don’t tend to find myself paralysed with fear as my hand hovers over the keyboard at the initial writing stage. In addition, I’ve often found that when the chosen theme has been something which does not initially appeal to me personally, it has produced something surprisingly good, simply because it has pushed me out of my comfort zone.
So for me, I’d say writing groups are priceless. Writing can be quite an isolating activity, so it’s great to have people to share your highs and lows, plans and schemes. If you’re not already a member of one, I’d strongly recommend it.