In the world of writing, mentoring can take many forms, from formal learning, short or long courses, workshops, feedback from competitions, or participation in writers’ groups. Each of these involves the gaining of knowledge, practice, revision and feedback. The process of learning can be an exciting and personally satisfying experience, with self-pride and appreciation at each new skill learnt, or level reached, however, the nature and degree of skill development is determined by the receptiveness of the individual and their ability or willingness to embrace each learning opportunity.I have always chosen to be part of a writing community where interests are shared, skills developed, and creativity nurtured, finding this beneficial to my growth as a writer in many ways. Writers’ groups also provide a support network to develop and advance writing, and can be a vital resource when people begin to submit their work to competitions and publishers. The fellowship of like-minded people, who freely share their skills, knowledge, and experience, can strengthen self-confidence as a writer, depending on their expectation of the group and understanding of its function and limitations.
Through my involvement with groups, over many years, I have seen people lose confidence in their writing ability and there are a number of reasons for this. It may stem from the lack of understanding that good writing is more than simply having a great idea or story line; it is the translation of a concept into a coherent, written form that determines the quality or value of the work. For some, it is the self imposed expectations and impatience to attain goals that causes them to ignore essential elements of the learning process. Lack of self-confidence is frequently interpreted as writer’s block, and so much has been written on this subject that I have no need to expand on it here; however, overcoming this is the sole responsibility of the writer. It is not a phenomenon where blame must be apportioned, it is simply a temporary state of being, and the more time spent placing external culpability, the longer the condition will continue. Writers, who place responsibility for their shortcomings on others, are wasting an opportunity to gain valuable insight into their functionality as a writer. By becoming solution focused, strategies can be put in place that has lasting benefit.
Writers’ groups are not for everyone. There are those who feel they have reached their capacity for learning, who may not trust the opinions or motives of others, or who do not understand the objective nature of the critiquing process. Preciousness exists within us all and the writers’ ego can be the greatest obstacle we face in our quest for positive recognition in our chosen field. This may manifest as an emotional attachment to a particular piece of writing, resulting in the inability to give or receive objective reflection or feedback, or from an unwillingness to accept that a piece of writing may be less than perfect from the point of view of others in the group. Others perceive themselves to be victims, validating this with inappropriate remarks and pained expressions when their work is being critiqued, although they have no qualms about giving candid comment on the work of others in the group. We all experience brief episodes of preciousness at one time or another; it is only when this becomes chronic that it has the capacity to infect the group with different strains of the virus.
One possible solution for anyone experiencing difficulty in getting words onto paper is to revisit their personal writing goals and how these relate to the group they belong to. If they previously found the group process of critique constructive, I suggest they try to identify a point of change and what factors were present at that time. If there have been no major changes in the functioning of the group, look at what changes may have occurred on a personal writing level, or whether there has been significant progress in their writing that would render critique from the group unnecessary. This self-assessment requires honesty. It is useful to take notes and summarise findings to determine whether a writing group is conducive to their needs at this time. As part of this review, it can be helpful to revisit the purpose of the writing group and the processes in place for providing effective critique, using the following checklist on the following page.
- Everyone taking their turn.
- Each person feeling their opinion is valid and useful.
- Equal time to speak.
- Encouragement and support of others.
- Comments on the writing, not the writer.
- Alternatives and solutions offered as a point of view only.
- Building on the comments of others.
- Remaining focused on the task.
- Enabling others to contribute to the discussion.
- Offering comment that is specific, concrete, constructive, and suggests alternatives and solutions.
- Raises both negative and positive points.
- The understanding that the writer will consider the comments and make up their own mind.
- Focuses upon substantive issues in the writing, suggesting corrections for the first few minor errors and leaves the writer to correct the rest.