A writing group, sometimes called a writing circle or a writing meet-up, is a group of writers who meet regularly to critique each others’ works, share writing advice, or workshop around a writing exercise. Writers as a group have mixed feelings about writing groups. Some, among them many famous writers, eschew the groups. At their worst, they can be a waste of time with a writer spinning his or her wheels going over the same piece of work ad infinitum. It takes time for a writer to learn how to provide constructive feedback to other writers without trying to rewrite their works into his or her own style. As with any gathering of people, group dynamics vary. Finding a supportive group a writer feels comfortable with may not be easy. But when one finds that group, there are many benefits to be gained from being part of the group.
I have been a member of a writing group for several years now. Just Write is the name of the group. We are a handful of women who meet monthly to share stories, poems, plays, parts of books or novellas, and even song lyrics. We email our monthly selections a day or two prior to the meeting. At the meeting we read our selections aloud. We discuss the piece, the process of writing the piece, and/or the ideas that prompted it. We are an informal group. If someone doesn’t have a piece they’re prepared to share that month, she can still participate.
I’ve learned a number of things from Just Write.
- A piece becomes different when read aloud. This is especially true for poetry. The piece can be different again when someone other than the author reads it aloud. My final editing steps now include reading aloud to myself and listening for turns of phrase that don’t sound quite right, are missing words, or have too many words.
- What may be self-evident to the writer is not always so to the reader. Questions from the group have helped me discover where I have omitted to share key information with the reader.
- Not all readers react the same way or expect the same things. One of our members likes a lot of physical detail, another not so much. The reader brings her own perspective to a piece. Members of the group have sometimes interpreted my writing in ways I hadn’t expected. Sometimes this has been a delightful surprise. Sometimes it’s caused me to rethink my piece and shape it differently.
- Questions about the background of a story have prompted me to dig deeper into the story, resulting in changes that make it clearer, or even change direction, subtly or dramatically.
- Not only is reading and hearing other people’s writing fun, it gives me ideas about different ways I can approach my own writing.
- Learning what parts of my writing resonated with the group has helped me better understand my own strengths and style. I can better build on those strengths and grow as a writer.
- Because we also share information learned at workshops and our individual processes of writing and editing, I have a fuller toolkit of approaches and techniques. An approach that works for someone else may not work for me, but then again it might.
At a Write to Art class I took at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, instructors Debbie Schnitzer and Marjorie Anderson talked about the PS response to the writing of others. The P refers to emphasizing the positive, a word or phrase that stands out as vivid or compelling, identifying your emotional response to the piece. The S stands for suggestions for next steps or enhancements, something that could be expanded upon, something of interest not in the story yet. Our group had not known the PS response, but instinctively practiced it, and has been supportive and constructive.
As a group, we continue to learn how to provide feedback to others that helps them with their next steps without suggesting rewrites into our own styles, and how to seriously consider the feedback we receive, deciding what changes we will or won’t make to improve our work and still retain our own styles and visions.