This spring, I began a writers’ group. Over the past few years, I have hosted some writing workshops in our culturally starved community. Plus, for my book group, I cheat by recommending books by authors who I know, then bring them in to lead the book discussion. So, without having planned on it, I have become one of the first people to come to mind in our area when you think writing and books. If I die tomorrow, I think that’s a beautiful thought to have in my obituary. And so, several of the local writers (and some writer-want-to-be) asked if we would ever put together a writers’ group.
My last two experiences with writers’ groups was average….and horrible. In one, the focus was completely on poetry. And while I do have a great appreciation for poetry (my undergrad thesis was on Shakespeare’s narrative poem, The Phoenix and the Turtle), it is not my own writing focus. The group soon fell apart and then later a new one formed. I gave it another shot and found myself dealing with a chain-smoking young man who had no understanding of personal space and was confusing erotica with porn. At that point, I threw up my hands and walked away from writers’ groups altogether. I had a sneaking suspicion that any supposedly successful writers’ groups were more focused on the wine and dine, and not crafting a beautiful line of text anyway.
But the people last fall who asked me about getting one together were serious about improving their craft and I began to talk myself into it. Every writer conference I attended, there were writers talking about how supportive their writing group was in encouraging them to beat that butt-in-seat-dragon and in providing constructive feedback on what written pieces they finally deemed ready to share. I reached out to a few writer friends and asked them for some guidelines. If you ever want to start a group of your own, the internet has plenty of suggestions as well.
The key to me is that we needed a facilitator to keep us on track; we all had to be there for the same reason; we had to be willing to give constructive criticism (not just ‘oh – that’s nice’) and we had to put our fragile writer egos on the shelf to listen to what we were being told. At our first meeting, we went over the guidelines that I had received and decided what would work for us. And much to my surprise, each person had brought something to share. It was an extraordinary experience for me – much like what some of my family members must receive in church. I walked away full of the motivation to sit and write some more.
Our group meets every two weeks or so (according to schedules) and some of the people have changed, but I still feel a closeness to a central few who are spending their free time scratching away at the page or banging on the laptop keyboard. They point out my issues with continuity. They praise my use of dialogue. And we all eagerly look forward to the next meeting’s writing prompt. If you can find a group who encourages you in this fashion, you are blessed.