Sunday, 25 September 2011

Top 12 things my writer's group has taught me...

Me at this year's writer's retreat

My writer's group meets once a month in a downtown pub. We're an eclectic bunch, all ages (20s to 70s). There are a few movie types (marketing and post-production), journalists and magazine people, a few professors, a fire code expert, a Russian architect/poet, and me.

The group is six years old now, and each year in the fall we have a celebration. So in the spirit of celebrating that fact, here are the top 12 things that I’ve learned about being part of a writer’s group:

1. Read your work to the group. It makes you a better writer. It’s hard at first, everyone seems to hate doing it. But it’s essential: find your voice, share it, own it. It's magic.
2. Do writing exercises together. Your group will entertain the public ('why are all those people at that table so quiet, and writing so feverishly?'). But I always learn something new about my writing style. Always.
3. Show up. As often as you can or, at least when you say you are going to.
4. Bring new work now and then. It doesn’t have to be great writing, it doesn’t even have to be really good writing, but it does have to exist.
5. Not all writing is good. Not even your own. People experiment, sometimes with less-than-stellar results. You are part of a group, you need to be honest, but fair. Still, no one likes a churlish harridan. Memorize a few non-commital yet constructive responses, you’ll keep your friends.
6. No one can write well in a vacuum. Even when you aren’t feeling like a joiner (and since writers are such solitary creatures, this is most of us), a group of writers can pull you back up.
7. Support your natural leader. Celebrate him/her; pick up the slack once in a while.
8. Ambiance matters. Pick your meeting place carefully. I once belonged to a writer’s group who met on Sunday mornings at a noisy restaurant over breakfast. I now belong to a group who meet at a dark, dingy, delightful pub in the evening for beer beside a fireplace (outdoor patio on summer evenings). Easy choice.
9. Do a membership drive, now and then. A balance of guys/girls is nice, too.
10. You may sometimes influence each other's writing. Accept this. Discuss it.
11. Shut up and listen.  You can’t do all the talking. No one can. No one should.
12. Celebrate your successes. Support each other at book readings and launches. Support members who finish a manuscript, a poem, a thought. Clap loudly the first time your quietest, newest member reads a poem to you.

Congratulations guys! Here’s to another six years together.




What if one is too scared to join a writers' group? What if? How does one get over this? (Does one even want to? Hmmph.)

Philippa Dowding said...

Dear Weird: I'm totally with you there. It IS scary! You have to be vulnerable and willing to take risks and read your work and endure a few hits of (hopefully friendly) criticism. But it's worth it. You'll be a better writer, promise.