I love my writing groups. Joining a writing group is arguably the single best step I have taken in my writing career. There are so many advantages – from making new friends, mutual encouragement and tapping in to pockets of expertise. A writing group can help you become a better and indeed more productive writer. However, a word of warning – the wrong writing group could spell disaster!
In principle, I am perfectly content to spend hours alone with my keyboard, working away at my projects. I only decided to join a writer’s group when early years motherhood meant that I no longer saw my colleagues regularly – it was a way to meet others without my baby. I regret not finding a group sooner as I am certain my writing would have benefitted enormously, and I certainly would have had more belief in my own craft. Joining a writing group was instrumental in taking the step from hobby writer to career writer as I’d always hoped.
My first hurdle was not really knowing what a writing group is – it was such a vague option. I was terrified to join a motley crew reading first drafts out loud only to have them savagely critiqued. Those might exist, however that is far from my experience. Let me tell you a bit more.
What is a writing group?
Writing groups come in all shapes and sizes, with varying purposes. You will meet regularly, either in person or digitally.
I have one of each and a third very informal writing support group. Some groups are based on genres, others on topics, and others still gather around specific challenge or block to writing. There are three of us in my informal group, and about a dozen members in each of the other two though it is rare for more than half of us to attend. It provides an opportunity to network and connect, discuss writing process and challenges, seek feedback and often we select learning materials and set writing tasks to complete together.
There are different types of writing group. In some cases, you send work to be read in advance and discuss together, or you bring work in. There are groups that follow a programme set in advance, some take turns to lead a focus on a technique and so on.
What do I get out of it?
Finding like-minded people to share the writing adventure with has been a source of great joy. Often when I’m stuck on a project, a session with one of my groups sets me back on track.
Over the years, I have become good friends with some members of my writing groups. Others I have a lovely warm collegiate dynamic with. These relationships and the sense of connection really helps me keep my projects going.
I’ve mentioned before I am not a runner, but it is a good image as I know that the few times I have enjoyed running have been when I have a friend to join semi regularly. The same applies to writing. I look forward to sharing the progress made in my manuscript which means I have to keep progressing. The flip side is that when it is not progressing, they’re the first people I turn to. They know my process and where the work has come from. No matter how close your family and friends, unless they are writers or creatives, they are unlikely to understand the process you are going through. Not everybody will get why sitting up crying about your plot at 2am is part of your process!
How did I find my writing groups?
I have one that is form specific and addresses a particular challenge. This one is run by an organisation and is a little more formal in its set up. It runs termly and every session we have a member or two join and a couple leave, some come back. Usually because they work hours have changed. These sort of groups are often run by local libraries, councils, community groups and can be a great safe starting place. At this one we usually do writing exercises, which can be challenging and push me out of my comfort zone.
My second group is a far more cross form and genre group, and is simply based on creative writing. We get together and bring work in progress, often top & tailing the session with a short free write. This one has proven to be particularly good for critiques.
The third is really now a friendship group and grew out of a workshop. We email each other work, support each other, flag up opportunities we come across, cheer each other on. This is my go to 2am “THAT’S IT I AM BINNING THIS AND GIVING UP FOR EVER” group. I have yet to actually give up of course - thanks chums!
Of course the internet is a great resource to search for writing groups in your area, but also online ones. You may find that a guided masterclass led by authors or an editor grow into writing groups, you may find your community on social media. There is a group out there for you.
A word of warning
I am very lucky with my groups. However, I did not just stumble into these.
First of all, find a group that nurtures your craft, where you can grow. I personally really enjoy a mix of expertise and new writer enthusiasm, of knowledge and fresh perspectives in all of my writing groups. The ones I am a part of feed into my poetry writing, another is for prose and the creative writing group is a broader perspective across the craft.
In addition, the blend of personalities is important – while you need to push yourself out of your comfort zone with your writing, you should not feel uncomfortable with the people in your group. If you go along and find it’s not the right fit, don’t take that as a sign that you should give up looking for a group. Your group is out there!
Finally, I think it worth mentioning that writing groups can have specific longevity. You may find yourself outgrowing your group, or the membership may change. If it’s one that is facilitated, that person may move on. The timing may no longer suit. There are plenty of straightforward reasons for wanting to find a new group.
In all three cases, I would start with some online research, and reach out to the leader or main admin person. If you know a writer who is in a group, you could gently ask if they’re looking to increase their numbers. If they’re not, don’t take it personally. That opportunity may circle back if the time isn’t right just now. If you don’t have a local group, there are plenty of online ones these days too, and there’s no reason not to set up your own group too!
To sum up
If writing is your passion – hobby or career – join a writing group. Do your homework when you choose your group - by topic or challenge? Critique or programme based? Do you prefer a discussion based group? Maybe a short series of workshops, online or in person. A writer’s group can push your writing to the next level and bring rich friendships:
· Find likeminded people that encourage you and see you as a writer and build your network.
· Stay accountable – you may be great at self-motivating, but every great writer finds spells of procrastination. Your group will prod you into action.
· Improve your craft: learn different techniques and approaches, challenge yourself, get feedback.
· Find opportunities – whether sharing upcoming opportunities from knowing which agents are open to what competitions exist, collaborate with fellow writers, discuss the benefits of residencies.
· Access expertise – your group fellows may have in depth knowledge or know the person you need to find out more in specific areas: from the crime writer with a good contact in the police for research to pitching festivals or how to use social media effectively.
· Fun! The friendships and relationships that have grown out of my writing groups are some of my most cherished. I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of a group.
On that note, I want to finish this blog post by saying thank you to everyone who I have written with in groups and workshops over the years – I appreciate you so much.