Forum Friday: Are you part of a writing group?

On Tuesday I met with a newly-formed writing group, and it got me thinking: there is a JUNGLE of diversity out there when it comes to writerly union and critique.

So I thought I would ask the online community: Do you participate in a writing group? If so, tell us about it. What is the format like? Do you meet in person? How often? What materials, if any, do you exchange? What is expected of you? What do you like most about it?

As for me, this group I recently met with, unlike any group/class/workshop I had ever participated in before, was all oral. Nobody read anybody’s work beforehand; the writers simply assembled, and everybody who wanted feedback on something was given fifteen minutes to read their work aloud and accept and discuss verbal feedback. That was also different from what I’d experienced before; in class settings we always had a ‘gag rule’ where the author wasn’t allowed to comment on his or her work during critique. With this format we were able to ask questions of the listeners.

I think there are pros and cons to any given format, but what here’s what I like best about this one: anyone can bring something in and test-pilot before an impartial panel!

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32 thoughts on “Forum Friday: Are you part of a writing group?

  1. Wow that sounds like a really interesting group! The only writing group I participate in is online at university, but we all share and critique each others work. Having always been sceptical of this sort of thing I was surprised to realise how much I loved it, and how helpful it was. Congrats on sending your work away!!

    • I’m glad you’ve found the group you work with helpful! How does it work online, then? Do you all send each other material to read and send it back with commentary?

      Thank you for reading and commenting, and for your kind congrats πŸ™‚

  2. ups and downs about critque groups. with one i found myself going nowhere, while another i sat in on for a day, and which would’ve been great to join, wanted only experienced (published) authors. though it’s always good to get feedback on your work, critiques are a mixed bag and it’s often hard to tell which ones to pay serious attention to.
    reading a work aloud can emphasize certain aspects of a work, however, the inflection of a voice can change the meaning of words. also, writing needs to be visibly attractive as most people still read to themselves.
    good luck for “Shifters.”

    • Yes, that’s another thing– the difference between how a page will read aloud and how it will read on paper. It’s probably good to get feedback for both areas to get the most rounded perspective!

      I like your conclusion: that writing/critique groups are a ‘mixed bag’ of experiences. I think that may be the most appropriate label. But, true to the metaphor– sometimes you find treasure!

      Thank you for reading, and in regards to Shifters! πŸ™‚

  3. Nope, not anymore. I used to belong to the Willamette Writers here in Portland. It got too big, too filled with wannabee writers, too filled with critiques….too filled period. I’d leave a meeting and try to write, only to find myself putting down their thoughts and ideas. One good friend who can be honest, and one good editor who will give you a chance….that’s all I need. After all…..writing is a solitary craft. There’s a little romance in that. And it suits me πŸ™‚

    • Good call. Sometimes after critique I have to step back from the comments I’ve received and, before or after I make changes, evaluate whether those suggestions really do improve the work or if I am letting others put their personal spin on my work! A good writing buddy is definitely worth her weight in…manuscripts! πŸ˜‰

  4. I’m participating in a writing workshop that meets once a month. It’s led by a woman who attended Columbia College in Chicago which has a relatively well-known MFA program. She uses many of the techniques she learned there to do several things. First, each session she discusses a different kind of story-telling technique and has us read some examples from short stories. For example, model story telling, which typically beings with a line like “It was a day just like every other day,” and then there’s a short paragraph about why it was typical … until something changed, which leads to the story that follows. We then do a lot of mental and visual imaging exercises in which we interact with each other. The exercises are hard to explain, but I’ve found them very helpful in expanding the horizons of what I see in my head when I’m working on a story. Then, finally, we spend 30-40 minutes writing something and then read the result to the group. There is no real serious critiquing of our efforts. Instead, people discuss words and images that stuck out to them.
    The other thing I’ve tried lately is a prompt workshop, where everybody writes based on provided prompts and then read the results.

    • Wow! Your writing workshop sounds wonderful– very structured, and like you always come away from it with new knowledge and perspective (least of all, improved writing)! Having examples and then putting into practice what they do is an excellent method method of learning.

      Aw, I miss my old writing classes where we did just what you describe– come up with a prompt, and then everybody writes something based on that prompt, and everybody shares at the end! People tend to have more fun, I think, when there is less pressure on the critique side of things.

  5. Hooray for Shifters! Let me know how it goes please -:)!
    Now for the writing groups … truth to be told I never liked them much and was only participating in couple of them. I found the ‘gag rule’ rather off putting and ‘everyone must be so nice to everyone’s work’ too sugary! Frankly, is something is garbage, I’d like to know about it! Anyway; the group you described sounds interesting, if I can participate in something like that, I think I might change my mind on writing groups!
    Cheers!

    • Thank you, Daniela!!! I most certainly will πŸ™‚

      As for writing groups, YES– certain rules can be thorny. I understand the idea behind the gag rule, and even (especially for beginning/open-to-all-levels writers groups) the need to focus on positive feedback, but certainly such things can be both limiting and even unhelpful to the writer at times! I definitely agree– if something I’ve written is trash, I want to know and make it better!

  6. I think I’d be too scared to read out loud in a face-to-face writing group. Congrats on submitting! Baking ingredients at the ready! πŸ™‚

    • I know it sounds terribly cruel, but I love the reading-out bits of writers’ groups precisely because everybody gets so scared. Except when my turn comes, of course.

      We writers can be so silly at times, but reading in public definitely does you good, and can be a very useful tool in punctuation and editing. The jitters are common amongst even the most professional performers, and let’s face own up, writing is really closet theatre when you think about it.

      You get reading in public, Laura, youΒ΄ll soon get to enjoy it , even if only when it’s over.

      • I’m a very visual person, so I learn more from written rather than verbal feedback (and like that I can refer back to written feedback too). I should give a writing group a try though, but I don’t think there’s one in my area. I’d love to set one up when I get a bit more time though.

  7. I was a member of an English writing group in Spain, and I loved it. The best thing about it was that it gave me a chance to eat far better than I do at home, as nearly all the other members were far richer than me and had fabulous homes set in stunning locations compared to the little flat I live in. We even had American writer, Don Meredith as a member. One of his collections of short stories was nominated for a Pulitzer.

    I particualrly liked the pot roasted beef we got at one place. I still regret not going for a that third portion. Should’ve asked for the recipe too. And the wine was excellent at that one too. A very good meeting indeed.

    The downside was the general poverty of writing skills. I suppose it folded after only about six meetings because nobody got invited round to my place. Well, I can’t afford the price of two big bottles of beer and an extra loaf of bread as well.

    • Bryan, that sounds GLORIOUS! Like a full-on, mobile writer’s retreat!

      One has to wonder about priorities, though. Delicious pot roast and expensive wine is all good and well (perhaps even nourishes one’s creativity!) a lack of writing skills seems borderline counterproductive… Except, then, of course, you had a Pulitzer-nominated star among you…

      Somebody here used the word ‘mixed bag’ to describe writing groups. I think that’s an appropriate conclusion!

  8. Like a couple of previous commenters I’d be a little dubious. I’ve read some pretty mundane stuff from new writers recently and have no real wish to be subjected to more. How does one extricate oneself? I’ll stick to the online community and the occasional conference.

    • Ah yes…the difficulty can often be finding people whose writing experience/level is similar to your own– or at least a setting where everyone participating can foster improvement in everybody else. A difficult equation indeed.

      Glad you know what works for you! I have yet to attend a writing conference, but I am looking forward to it.

  9. Ahhh that writing group sounds interesting!
    I am part of a writing group, but a very informal, and, well, to be honest downright casual group. We tend to hang out together at cafes or each others loungerooms (the core group of us consists of only 5 people, though sometimes others come along too), and just write simultaneously, occasionally seek feedback on each others work, talk about books and writing, and gradually deteriorate in work ethic until we end up just drinking coffee and eating food and suddenly the day has passed us all by. So yeah, it’s lovely, but definitely no real formality or structure unless one of us (usually myself) specifically plans there to be a structure to the day beforehand.

    • Ahh, I have participated in at least one more casual group in the past. It was loads of fun, but not the most productive πŸ˜‰ Still, I think not just community but friendship (and ‘hanging out’) among writers is necessary– as always, a balance of work and play!

  10. I took a writing class at the Attic Institute in Portland, Oregon. I had a great teacher and the format for the first day included a 15 minute oral synopsis of our idea/outline/novel, whichever phase you were in at the time. We submitted our final written work to everyone a week before the critique and at the critique the writer wasn’t allowed to comment about his/her own work until everyone else had their say. I think keeping the writer quiet is a good idea. It is soooo easy to become defensive about our writing or want to explain something that the readers didn’t get, it would be difficult to get through the whole critique with so many interruptions. I appreciate the oral critique more than a written, track-changes, copy of my own story with red outlines and “huh?” boxes. That can be a bit intimidating. In a group, the critique has to be “helpful” but, on paper people tend to get verrrry critical. That’s my experience.

    • Good observations! Yes, now that you mention it, I definitely think people have an easier time being critical (even in the negative, non-constructive sense) on paper than in person. Different environments.

      The gag rule also has its benefits. The writing courses I took at university operated very similarly to the class you describe at the Attic Institute: with reading beforehand, oral feedback, and the writer not permitted to comment. But then our readers also handed back a physical copy of the piece with comments! Great structure, but not the most eco-friendly when it comes to manuscripts πŸ˜‰

  11. Congratulations on your submission. Good luck! I don’t know anything about writing groups. I think I would be too stubborn to make the appropriate changes if need be. So where did you submit your manuscript to?

    • Thanks, Tony! Well, you never know until you try πŸ˜‰ And like any critique, you are free to take writing group feedback with a grain of salt.

      I sent queries to a handful of agents (seeking representation at this stage; not to be published). One person’s submission guidelines called for the first three chapters, but other than that nobody actually has ‘the manuscript’ yet. Generally the manuscript is only sent if an agent likes your query and sample pages enough to request it!

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