Are ‘Writing Groups’ A Good Idea?

I’ve have roused myself from my writing stupor by:

1) Joining the local library. We marched in today 10 minutes before they closed and announced,“We’ve come to join!” I bet the librarian loved us. But, to be fair, she whisked out her application forms and pointed us in the direction of the books.

b) Going to a writing group! Well… I tried one out last night. To be honest, I’m not sure whether writing groups are for me. I’ve been to 3 in my life (as opposed to writing classes, which are structured and taught) and I think I prefer the structured/taught approach.

Writing Groups, in my fairly limited experience, seem to consist of lots of people reading out their work, followed by lots of praise for that work by everyone else in the group. Hmmmm.

However, it wasn’t a wasted evening because just being around other writers (and they were all very nice people, even if the structure of the group is not really ‘my thing’), was inspiring in itself. I was with Other People – WHO WRITE!

It has got my brain buzzing with lots of ideas. I even sent off an entry to the ‘Words With Jam’ First Page competition today (sorry but it’s too late – unless you can zap them something by midnight?! In which case, here is the link).

Any of you out there in Writers Groups (I’m sure you are!) – and if so, what do you think are their pros and cons?!

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19 Responses to Are ‘Writing Groups’ A Good Idea?

  1. Keith Havers says:

    I’m in two writers’ clubs – both run very differently from each other. They’ve both helped me enormously but I guess they’re not for everybody.

  2. Fiona says:

    I belong to several and have tried various others. The structure followed makes a huge difference as to how useful it is. One I belong to is purely for exchanging tips, advice, market ideas, etc. Another that has been very useful assigns two writers to present their work each week. After they’ve read, we go around and everyone offers feedback (written and spoken). During the critique period, the writer being critiqued cannot speak. It’s a great opportunity to see what works and doesn’t in your own writing as well as that of others.

    • Fiona – I like the sound of that second one you go to. I think there does need to be a ‘format’ for critiquing work. Otherwise one or two people can end up doing all the talking – and everyone else feels too intimidated to disagree with them. I’ve heard of one way of doing it: everyone has to take it in turns to comment and they have to say one good thing (something they liked or that worked well) and one thing that they think could improve the piece of work. I’ve never tried it but that sounds sensible to me.

  3. snowdog says:

    I have never belonged to a writing group, not least because there isn’t one in the town where I live. Myself and a friend who writes wonderful poetry and takes fabulous photographs have toyed with the idea of starting one, but it seems like a huge responsibility. Would we be up to it, I wonder. My late uncle was a council officer by day and successful short story writer by night and he belonged to a writing group in St Albans. He found it a great source of support and inspiration. I think you’re right and you just have to dip and out until you find a group that suits.

  4. Viklit says:

    I belong to a writing group and find it invaluable. It may help that we met on a structured course where the end of each class was given over to constructive criticism. We have carried that same practice into our own group.

  5. I go to a writing group but all too often it is just a mutual appreciation of each others work. But it does mean that people make the effort to sit down & write something & so can be beneficial to those with little self-discipline. I much prefer it when we have a workshop or something other than reading out manuscripts.

  6. Hi Helen, you joined the library! That’s my girl, you are on the up and up… I went to a writing class, tutoured by Kieth Lindsey, co-writer of Birds of a Feather, he was brilliant, and the other class mates were hillarious. We had wiggy, who wore a ‘piece’. One day wiggy was late, it was a windy day. He came through the door with his wiggy a bit lopsided:? Then there was a big lady, who heard that it was Gay’s turn to read out her work. She didn’t know who that was, sho she was shouting up and down the rows, “Who’s Gay, excuse me, who’s Gay?” Then when we had to get in pairs once, I got paired up with an old man who had a nose running like a tap. Oh my lord, it was dripping all over the desk. It was all I could do to stop from wretching up……. Then I was in a writers’ circle. We met every Wednesday night at each others houses. Somehow the one who’s house we ended up in changed…. I lived with my parents at the time. It was slightly off-putting, knowing I was round a table with my writer friends, and Mom and Dad were behind a thick curtain listening, and probably laughing. There was a lady who constantly farted as well…. Enough of writers and their habits. Have fun…….

  7. I’m a member of 2 writing groups. One is a traditional group, where we send our work to each other by e mail and then when we meet once a month we critique each others work. I often wonder how honest everyone is though lol.

    The 2nd group was born out of Nanowrimo. A group of us who attended the regular “write ins” for Nano, decided to continue to meet afterwards. Just for a chat, to offer help, advice and support to each other. We have a Facebook group and organise get togethers (and writing sessions) through that. It’s been brilliant 🙂


  8. Maggie May says:

    I go to a writing group that has been running for many years and I’ve dipped in and out as commitments permitted. I now go regularly and without the set homework I don’t think I would be writing as much as I do now (and that isn’t a lot!). But the group is beginning to run out of steam and our ‘leader’ is brilliant and trying to hold it all together. But we are an ageing group and need new blood. I would prefer it to be even more structured, but some of the other members don’t take it quite so seriously. There is a local WEA class which I think I will join in the autumn.

    Now you are a member of the library, how about joining their reading group? And there lies another sitcom. Susan’s post was hilarioius, I agree.

    • Ah ha, I thought of that but they don’t have a reading group! BUT there was one advertised on their board and they meet in the local pub on Monday nights. I can’t go this time as I’m off to bonny Scotland tomorrow but I’ll try to go next time and see what it’s like…!

  9. wightrabbit says:

    I love Libraries – particularly since I learned that the authors receive royalties every time their book is on loan. I found that out at my former writing group. Yes, it was great mingling with other writers – but I often found the comments destructive and de-motivating. So I left and I feel I can now write more freely, which is much more enjoyable for me. I trust you find your group supportive and fun! 🙂

  10. Feena Blay says:

    Spare a thought for those running the groups – its not easy. I run two and am pleased to see members return each week – though why still amazes me. I find that a good mix helps, not all crit but info about writing in general gives everyone a bit of breathing space – including me! I just wish our library was more accomodating with a venue. I make sure we all take it in turns to head up a session that way we get variety. Like Susan’s post an essentail ingredient is fun.

    • I agree, they’re definitely not easy to run – but they do need a ‘leader’, who’ll control the general chat, the amount of time people spend reading out (which I think should have some kind of time limit) and ensure that everyone gets a chance to speak and give feedback. Unfortunately the group that I tried out the other week didn’t seem to have a leader at all – and although it said on their website that they took it in turns to ‘lead’ the session, when I asked them on the evening, they said although they’d always intended to do that, they never had.

      • Fiona says:

        You’re right – leaders are often much underappreciated but oh so essential. A few years back some writer friends and I planned a get together once a month to critique each other’s work. Lets just say that after some great food and many margaritas at the local Mexican restaurant, critiquing fell to the side.

  11. johannanield says:

    I’m still on the look-out for a local Writers Group. I believe they can be invaluable, if you can find the right one.
    A few months ago, I attended one group’s meeting in a town several miles away because they had a guest author. I was very impressed with the author, but not particularly impressed with the way the group was run. Last month I attended the second group, closer to home, but most of the meeting was taken up with general chat followed by two people reading some recent work, neither of which were critiqued, so I didn’t understand the benefit of it.
    I work full-time and both groups meet during working hours, so my search continues!

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