Choosing a Writing Group
I have often been asked what I see as the ingredients for a good writing group; a question that led me to reflect on my own experience and practice, to first define purpose and identify effective functionality. Drawing on my own practice as a leader and member of many such groups, I see a writing group as a gathering of writers who meet periodically to read, critique and support one another's work; a coming together of people with a common aim, requiring a fair amount of trust and self-awareness, and a desire to learn and grow as a writer.
So, when asked to give my opinion as to what makes a good writing group, I have no definitive answer as this depends on who is doing the asking and for what purpose. While groups vary according to demographics, aims and objectives, there is always one word that, for me, defines the best qualities of any group.
That word is respect, broken down in definition as:
v Esteem: a feeling or attitude of admiration and regard toward somebody or something
v State of being admired: the state of being admired politely
v Thoughtfulness: consideration or thoughtfulness
v Characteristic: an individual characteristic or point
v To not go against or violate somebody or something: to show consideration or thoughtfulness in relation to somebody or something
Therefore for me, respect becomes the most important quality for a group and within a writing group this can be shown by:
A well functioning writer's group will have established basic and recognisable guidelines, which provide a supportive environment for everyone in the group, with an aim to improving individual writing skills and habits. Ideally writers should be learning from each other and be enthusiastic about each member's writing, while being able to make and take criticism and not argue or justify their work.
Other ingredients of a good writer’s group
- Similar goals - whether it is a hobby group, where members write for personal enjoyment and bring this to meetings to share with others, or a group where members are actively seeking publication; people who regularly write and bring this to meetings and who are educating themselves about the broader business of writing, the collective goals of the group must be similar.
- Genuinely honest critique - detailed, honest, objective critique or comment is one of the most important things a writer's group can offer its members.
- Frequent meetings - a group that meets frequently creates a stronger desire to produce material to bring to a meeting and promotes a sense of fellowship and support for members, particularly because of the solitary nature of the writing, which can often be misunderstood by non-writers (including family, friends and other loved ones)
- Encouragement - a group that encourages members to pass on skills and share their knowledge of the industry.
What to avoid
- Unproductive ego-stroking – where compliments are made no matter what kind or quality of material is presented. This hollow praise does little, if any, good to a writer seeking an objective appraisal of their work.
- Cutting criticism – there is a difference between constructive critiques, where intelligent and objective comments and suggestions are offered, and destructive ego shredding.
- Lack of respect – some people will ignore the rules, attack the leader and other writers, try to hog the meeting, refuse to even consider changing a word of their story, and generally make the experience miserable for other members.