Other people can shed a different light on your writing, just by telling you what they feel about it.
The bits they love.
The bits they don't understand.
The bits they find problematic.
They can do for you what you absolutely cannot do for yourself – see your writing from another point of view.
For that reason alone, I'm a big fan of writing groups. Although I have to admit to being biased – I've been part of a fabulous writing group for the past 11 years. It's been hugely motivating to work with other people.
Ok. Perhaps I can be a bit more truthful about that:
Without my writing group, I would never have finished my novel.
There are 8 of us. We have shared our writing, our aspirations, our insecurities. We have witnessed one another's big life experiences. These have become some of the dearest human beings in my life.
Something brilliant happens when a group of people get together to do something creative. There's so much more that can be learned by sharing each others' process. And it's so much more fun. (Sometimes we don't write at all, we just drink flavoured vodka).
I asked them the other night what they believe is important about belonging to a group...
Russell: 'The writing exercises we've done together over the years have taught me never to be scared of a blank page. Even if I have no ideas at all, I can start writing without worrying about the end result.'
Dave: 'Writing together is good discipline. And it works best if everyone is willing to share their work and be critiqued.' (See Dave's published novel – Fitzgerald's Wood)
Carol: 'Just coming and participating reminds me I'm a writer.'
Neela: 'It's great to be with a bunch of people who get it. I feel supported. It works because we're honest, not too schmaltzy.'
Justine: 'It's a brilliant way to get feedback from people you respect and trust.' (See Justine's published novel – Advice for Strays)
All good. And I'd say belonging to a writing group has been at the heart of my growth into a novelist.
It's scary sharing your stuff; joining a group can feel like a massive challenge.
And joining the wrong group can even do more harm than good. Because powerful stuff can happen in groups, not all of it helpful. Group dynamics can be tricksy, a playground for egos and insecurities.
Make sure you join the right group, one with guidelines in place to keep things safe and constructive. Or, even better, create the right group – there are loads of writers out there who would be interested in setting up a group with you. Discuss and agree a structure together from the start.
My advice, in a nutshell:
1. Agree on guidelines for giving constructive feedback.
There's a balance to be struck between being positive and being scared to say anything critical at all. But with a few sensible guidelines in place from the start, confidence and trust can grow.
2. Set boundaries.
Create a 'system' that means everyone gets a fair go and nobody hogs all the space.
3. Share responsibility.
Don't leave it down to one person to organise things. (We take turns sending out reminders and devising writing exercises to do together).
4. Commit to it.
Turn up, even when you don't feel like it.
What do you think? If you belong to a writing group, or are considering joining one... what's important to you?