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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My First Writer’s Meet-Up

Last night I did something I had never done before: I met with a dozen strangers to read aloud and critique work.

Writing can be a very isolating profession. I throw myself pretty hard at my work, and much of it requires silence, or at least a certain sequestering from outside influences. I think the nature of our work does not just make it easy to lose ourselves in it, but also makes it difficult to connect with others who do the kind of work that we do.

Thus thinking, (and also bearing in mind how enthusiastically agents seem to recommend critique groups), I thought it high time to check out the local writing community. It was actually ridiculously easy to search online and find several groups and meeting places in my urban environs– and I chose one, and I showed up, and SHAZAAM! It Was Good.

It went like this. People showed up. Some regulars, some first-timers like myself. We ordered food and drinks, said our introductions (we were a wide range of ages, writing backgrounds, and genres of choice), and then, one by one, those who wanted feedback on something they’d written read it aloud to the group. Everyone listened, and at the end of the piece offered criticism.

How cool is that?? I’ve done writing workshops, and I’ve swapped poems and stories and chapters and even novels with writing buddies, but I have never done an all-oral format before. With total strangers, to boot! I tell you, if you want to see how well something you’ve written stands up, don’t just read it aloud– read it to strangers. And read it to strangers who write. As I say, everyone there was coming from a different place, but it didn’t take long to see the value in hanging out with people who know the industry and craft and any of the intricacies thereof. I will definitely be going back.

Good news, too: the piece I chose to test pilot was well-received! People laughed where I intended it to be funny (thank God), the audience said they were intrigued enough to want to keep reading (thank God again), and listeners were able to pinpoint details I’d overlooked or could improve on just like that, and offered some great suggestions. I can’t wait to make some adjustments and make my opening even stronger! (Yes– “stronger,” because at least one person directly said “strong writing.” I am still a bit giddy about that.)

I also had the privilege of hearing some pretty cool material from its authors firsthand. There is something special about hearing an author deliver their own work!

I am excited to spend more time with this group and see what comes of it.