Writers Groups – Are They Worth It?

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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.

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8 responses »

  1. Pingback: I’m a believer…in writers’ groups | writemybrainsout

  2. I agree and disagree. It’s great to talk to other writers but I don’t particularly want to have to share mine or other’s work or critique it. When I did my online writing course, part of what we had to do was comment on other writer’s work – I hated it. I knew what I wanted to say but couldn’t. Everyone was so gushy that I didn’t feel the critiques were reliable. The tutor’s critiques were excellent, however, and this was what I found most useful. I think part of the problem is, I used to be an English teacher and it seemed a bit like a busman’s holiday but without the pay. I think it’s horses for courses and it depends what you like and what you want to get out of a writers’ group. I can see why writing out of your comfort zone can be a good thing, though. I went to my very first writing group meeting, last month. They had an excellent speaker and the next month’s one sounds just as good. This is just the sort of writing group i want – but when they do the critique workshops, I won’t be there!

  3. I take your point, but I think the reliability of the critiques improves over time. To begin with, everyone is a bit careful about saying anything negative – but the “oh, it was marvellous” comments are useless (other than to give you an inflated sense of your own ability!) so I much prefer it when people are honest and find something to pick up on. Once the group get to know each other a little more, the comments start to become less flattering and more insightful.

    When my first piece of work was up for critique in the MA workshop, I got the giggles because it was such a surreal experience. I’ve discussed many great works of literature in numerous English Lit classes, and here was a group of – presumably – sane, intelligent people discussing my story in the same way they would a proper work of literature! I found it very difficult to take seriously to begin with – which in itself was very telling. For me, one of the greatest things about the workshop environment is seeing other people respond to my work in an honest and respectful way, which in turn has helped me to take myself and my writing seriously.

  4. Pingback: Shropshire Writing Groups | Jenny Roman

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