Writing requires a certain amount of solitude, to conceptualize, dream, draft, and revise. And it is not accomplished solely in the vacuum of an author’s imagination and focused scribbling.
A few months ago, I decided to join a writing group. Over the years, I’ve been a member of many such groups, some more supportive and interesting than others. After the first few sessions, I remembered what I value about these gatherings:
Talking about writing offers numerous opportunities to explore what moves, challenges, bores, or puzzles me, as a reader. This provides insights when I am drafting and revising my own work.
Sharing my writing reveals what readers see in my work. What do they like, wonder about, or find funny or dull? Am I conveying what I think I am? When group members make suggestions or express confusion, I can determine how – or if – their feedback will be incorporated in subsequent revisions.
Experiencing different genres heightens my creativity: For years, I had given up writing poetry (that’s a story for another time). While my primary genre is nonfiction, recently I’ve begun writing poems again. With a few exceptions, each of us writes in multiple genres. Listening to such variety helps to tune my ear. What makes that poetry and that prose? When does repetition shift from creating an emotionally moving tone to becoming stultifying? How much detail is too much? Is the dialogue believable for that character?
The tone of the group is supportive: Group members focus as much on what works as they do on what doesn’t. As a writer, I learn from both perspectives.
Each session, we spend a few minutes writing together, using various prompts, such as words chosen from a box or random lines from a book. We leave each session with a prompt. It’s fun listening to the different ways each writer uses the same words. Most recently, I wrote a piece that incorporates the names of paint colors found on paint sample cards.
Though each of us is at a different stage in our writing career – some of us have several publications, others a few or none – all are equal at the table.
Belonging to a writing group has been inspiring: I look forward to sharing my work and listening to others’ words. The prompts are a fun way to use my imagination. And writing with a group alleviates isolation.
If you are considering joining a writing group, think about the attributes that would be most helpful for you. Give the group a trial run, so that you can observe how members interact. For example: Do they talk about the strengths in a piece as well as offer relevant suggestions? Does each writer get equal time (or do one or two dominate the discussion)? Do they have fun with writing; for example, writing together using random and, maybe, ridiculous prompts?
Keep writing, alone and with others!