Writers’ Groups: a waste of time?
Why Join a Writers’ Group?
Many creative people are just not suited to locking themselves away in a room for a year with only a computer and their thoughts for company. Others just don’t have the confidence or endurance to keep on writing in a vacuum. In a group, you will always have someone to encourage you when you start flagging, or to fix up a stretch of writing you can’t seem to get right. You also need to have really good systems that everybody sticks to religiously. (NSWWC newsletter, May 2016)
For some years now, I’ve been convening a local Writers’ Group. We started with five members, all working towards publication. Two of our members have achieved their goal, and seen their manuscript miraculously transformed into a real book by a prestigious publisher. This is after extensive editing resulted from the group’s feedback. We even have a grammar queen in our midst!
For me, the main benefits have been the wonderful solidarity and support from the group, and the momentum created by having a regular deadline for that next 2000 words or so. Procrastination and writers block couldn’t survive the positive motivation to produce a first draft for the next meeting. Add to that our delicious morning teas, and the warm friendships special to writers who share the highs and lows of the rocky road to publication.
Our Randwick Writers’ Group has the following simple guidelines, which have served us well for the last three years:
• fortnightly (now monthly) meetings on a Wednesday morning, of two and a half to three hours for giving and receiving feedback.
• rotate venues from house to house – providing a safe and friendly environment in which to share our work.
• submit max 2000 to 3000 words by the Monday before the meeting, either digitally, or hard copy.
• Option to read aloud one or two pages (it’s helpful to hear your work read by someone else)
• keep feedback constructive, as always. We start with a global review, then focus on what works and what doesn’t, and finish with positive suggestions.
1. The Sandwich Analogy: Say something positive before something negative, then finish on the positive or how to make it better.
2. Give the positives first and say why. Give the negatives next, and say why it doesn’t work for you, and lastly, how you think it could be made better.
3. Take on the task of critiquing with a positive and helpful intention; read carefully, trying to understand the writer’s point of view and creative goal.
4. Consider the basic issues of narrative structure, characterisation, evocative and atmospheric language, vivid setting and believable dialogue.
5. Think carefully about what is not working for you, and what is working, before you offer feedback. Be honest in your feedback; the writer needs guidance, not niceties!
Guidelines for Accepting Feedback
1. Be prepared to receive negative, as well as positive, feedback.
2. Separate the personal from the product, and see feedback as a valuable opportunity to improve your writing.
3. While receiving verbal feedback, try not to interrupt the speaker.
4. Be ready to respond to negative feedback, after speaker has finished. Give your reasons for your opinion.
5. Rewrite your work in accordance with the feedback received, and see if it is better. If not, stick to your guns!
6. A sure sign that you can write is that you keep going after knockbacks.
In my writing life, there’s nothing that’s helped me more than having a circle of writer friends to share work-in-progress with. Setting my own deadlines for finishing a scene or chapter leaves far too much room for renegotiation: committing to a weekly or monthly meeting means I have to meet an external deadline, one that involves other people who’re counting on me to get my work done.