Posted by: writerjames | October 16, 2009

What Can a Writing Group Do for You?

When I decided back in late 2007 to try to make a serious run at getting my first book done and in some kind of shape, I found and joined a writing group.  There are different kinds of groups out there, and I believe there are several that meet in the Dayton area, but I didn’t really know what I was looking for, so I just joined the first one I found.  Luckily, it turned out to be a good fit for me, and I’m still there.

My group meets twice a month in a local book store, and we meet for two hours or so per meeting.  There are usually around ten of us, and we take turns reading our work and then providing feedback.  The goal of this particular group is for all of us to be published authors, so the intent of the feedback is to provide valuable input from both a reader’s and an editor’s perspective.  We each have experience and knowledge that we’ve gained from industry books and magazines, and from publishing contacts, seminars and conferences, and we try to bring that knowledge together to benefit the group.

There are other kinds of groups out there, and recently we’ve had discussions about them as we debated whether or not we’re doing things in the most productive way.

Most notably, the two other types of groups we discussed are “fluff” groups, which only seek to compliment each other’s work, and “destructive” groups, whose primary purpose is to tear each others work apart in an effort to improve it.  Our group, we decided, is sort if in between “fluff” and “destructive”, which seems to work for us.

First, we try to highlight the positives we hear in the work, which I think is important to hear as a writer.  Sometimes something like, “I really loved the tension between the two characters,” can be just the boost you need to keep going.  Second, we try try be honest about what needs to be fixed or improved upon.  If a character seems one-dimensional, we say so.  If a conversation feels flat, we say so.  If an entire scene feels unnecessary or awkward, we say so.  Often, the advice can lead to extensive rewrites, but as they say, sometimes you have to murder your darlings.

In fact, it was a comment at a meeting that led me to completely rewrite one of the characters in my book.  People kept saying that Jake, the teenage journalist in my book, felt too goody-goody.  He was a great guy, and he was perfect, and everybody liked him, and he was… boring.  When I first heard these comments, I dismissed them.  Then I heard them again, and I listened.  And I realized they were right.  When I rewrote the character as a cocky, know-it-all kid with a chip on his shoulder about money and materialism, it provided a much richer relationship with his depressed and reclusive lottery-winning uncle.  Now there was great tension there, and the whole story made more sense.

Besides the feedback and advice, there are many other benefits to joining a writing group.  Just the exercise of reading and revising, with the feedback of several peers to draw upon, can strengthen you work.  As you begin to hear patterns and constant reinforcement of good writing habits, your own writing will improve.

Reading aloud is also good for a writer.  Sometimes you can write something, read it countless times, and you won’t hear something that’s wrong until you hear it out loud.

Another benefit is that by hearing the work of others and providing feedback, you will learn to analyze and provide feedback like an editor would.  In time, this will help you to be more critical of your own work.

The other benefit to being in a group is that it will encourage you to focus on your work.  Oftentimes, I find myself writing a scene and looking forward to reading it specifically to my group.

So if you’re an aspiring writer, and you’re ready to get serious about sharing your work with the world, start with a local writing group.  Not only will you feel less alone as a writer, you’ll feel more focused and knowledgeable because you’re commiting yourself to improving your craft.

James

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Responses

  1. Thanks for the good advice. I’ve not written but outside of a nightstand notebook and have a long way to go to find my inner voice. But I have attended a few groups like this in the past and they are indeed a great resource.

    • Thanks, Chris. Didn’t know you were a fellow writer.

  2. I enjoyed reading your blog. It allows me a glimpse of understanding you. I enjoy working with you already, now you have a whole other side! Nice!

  3. Thanks for being kind to our kwirky (intentional typo THiS TIME) group. I have had 46 visits to my blog lately, and I can’t figure out why because no one even knew about it! I have to start posting again. How do I send people who visit my blog to yours? I’m such a newbie!

    • I’m still a newbie myself, so I’m not quite sure. I’m going to try to create a links page soon, and I’ll put a link to your blog there. You can also leave links to your posts in my comments section, and that may send some people your way.

  4. You said some really nice things about our group. I’m really sorry I’m probably going to miss our next meeting. Hubby returns from a trip late that night.

    • We’ll miss you at the next meeting, hopefully we’ll see you after that.

  5. Thanks for writing this… I agree that it’s very hard to chop out parts of your writing and then rebuild. But, like you, I know it’s gotta be done…!

    • We’re sort of like film directors. So many times I hear them say that a deleted scene on a DVD was one of their favorites, but they knew it had to go.

  6. James, you are so right! A group can see things that we as writers totally miss. And then sometimes there’s magic, too, in the way they intuit deeper meaning that makes your writing seem better than it is. Whenever that happens they usually ask, “did you mean it that way?” And I nod unabashedly. “Absolutely!” and then we all laugh, knowing the reader was smarter than the writer.

    • Absolutely, Lynne. I’ve often been amazed by people pointing things out that I hadn’t even realized were there…

  7. Hello,

    How exactly did you find your group? I feel like a writing group may be something that may benefit me; I love to write but I lack a lot of self-confidence. Feeling an immense amount of shame about most of my writing and also that writing should be reserved for bigger thinkers than I am, most of my writing goes on the flash drive and never sees the light of day. Did you search on CraigsList? Thanks in advance for your insight.

    • Gina – Craigslist is certainly one way you could find a group. I found mine on my local newspaper’s events & meetings online listings. You can also visit your local bookstore websites, they’ll sometimes list groups that meet, and how to contact them. Or you can just do a Google or Yahoo search with your city name and ‘writing group’ and see what comes up. As far as your shame and lack of self-confidence, I think that’s pretty common among us writers. I felt the same way, but the group really helped. Once you realize that there’s no such thing as a perfect writer, and that every genre and style is different, it can help you to build your confidence. If you’re not comfortable reading and critiquing out loud, you might want to check into an online-only group. You can submit your work, read the work of others, and post and read notes online. Let me know what you decide to do, and how it goes!

  8. Thank you for your kind response. Your simple paragraph alone has made me feel better.


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