I’ll never forget the first time I went to a writers’ group. My hands were shaking as I read out my story from a sheet of paper. When I finished I looked up and the other writers smiled politely and told me how good it was. Next, a small man called John read out an excerpt from the erotic fantasy novel he was working on. There was something about trolls having sex with statues. When he finished, we all smiled and told him how good it was.
I left my first ever writers’ group feeling elated. My ego had been well and truly stroked. At the time it was probably the confidence boost I needed. But did it improve my writing? Nope, not in the slightest.
Fast forward a few years, and I’ve come to appreciate the real value of a well-organised crit group. I’ve attended evening classes, studied creative writing at university and nowadays I meet with Writers’ Bloc once a month in the back room of a cosy pub to craft my writing into something it never could have been if I’d struggled on alone.
If you’ve been thinking of joining a critique group, let me convince you why it’s a truly excellent idea.
It gives you a fresh perspective
Compliments are nice but there’s only so much they can do for you
If you haven’t tried a crit group before, you may have only shared your writing with friends and family members. While that can be useful, their feedback should be taken with a sizable pinch of salt. Particularly when it’s your mum telling you you’re going to be the next J.K.Rowling.
Compliments are nice but there’s only so much they can do for you. A good writers’ group will offer you a fresh pair of eyes and give you honest, specific and helpful feedback on how you can make your stories better.
At Writers’ Bloc crit sessions we use the Milford Rules – which means we submit work ahead of the actual meet up to read and digest. Then at the session we sit in a circle and take it in turns to offer feedback to the writer. The writer in question is not allowed to speak whilst receiving feedback, which – although difficult – helps with the flow and prevents anyone jumping in to defend their writing. Ultimately, you’re not going to be there to defend your character motivation or plot choices every time someone reads your story in the big wide world. So it makes sense to see if your story works well on its own.
Writing is often seen as a solitary pursuit, but a growing number of people are exploring and experiencing with the benefits of writing together.
Here, some writers and facilitators featured in the Professional Writing Academy’s Running Writing Groups course explain the value of a joining a writing group or workshop.
‘The energy is there, and there’s also the sense of being led, having the prompts given to you and not knowing what they are. There’s that feeling of challenge, really, and suddenly something will appear and you’ll have no idea what will happen. Sometimes in a group we’ll do character development, and after about half an hour we’ll all take a break to look at these amazing characters that have walked into the room with us. That’s part of the energy that writing in a group gives you.’
‘I think there’s a huge privilege in sharing in a group, a huge privilege, and when people are listening to each other you really enable that first piece of writing to grow, and you explore together. You can explore quite difficult and even disturbing ideas together, and there’s a safety in that as well. I love the differences in people and their work as well as the similarities, and I always find it quite exciting when you put one writing prompt down, and you get so many different and brilliantly exciting ideas. It keeps you refreshed, hearing other people’s ideas.’
‘The first thing that comes to mind is just hearing other voices. Our own perspective is always limited, even though we count on it to guide us. It’s way too limited, so it can tend to get us stuck as well. When there are other voices in the room, and you hear someone say ‘I was thinking of doing this’, or ‘I discovered this’, it can really resonate with something inside you. It’s beautiful that it deepens and broadens what we know to be possible. That’s the one thing. The other most important thing is the sense of community. Not only in the sense that you’re not alone, but working, creating and learning together.’
People could come to a group if they’ve lost energy in their writing, haven’t written in years and are beginning again, or even they’ve never written at all.Penny Shuttle
‘I think it comes down to two things. One is that it helps to build participants’ confidence. When they come out of that individual writing place they might have at home, or somewhere else, they discover that there are other people like them who share their enthusiasm. No matter what kind of writing they do, or what level they’re at with it, they seem to get huge enjoyment and motivation from being amongst the community of other people.’
Listen to an interview with Susannah Marriott of the Professional Writing Academy on the importance of investing in yourself as a writer.
Thinking about joining a local writing group or club but are not sure if it’s a good idea? No matter where you may be on your writing journey you may be surprised at what results can happen when you join writer’s groups that meet in person.
Knowing that you will be meeting with other writers and have the opportunity to share your work will motivate you to write during the week and to bring your best to the table.
You will have the opportunity to read what others have wrote, ask them questions, share ideas and brainstorm. You will gain a great deal of inspiration when you have the opportunity to carry out these activities on a regular basis with other writers.
Life is so busy and often writers find that they put off writing in order to complete more pressing matters throughout the week. However, being part of a structured writing group will provide you with the time you need each week to work on your projects and meet your writing goals.
You will have an opportunity to share your work with others and get feedback from them. By having a group of other writers look objectively at your work and offer their honest opinions, advice and feedback you will be able to see where your strengths and weaknesses lay. This will provide you with the information you need to hone your skill and improve overall as a writer.
When you run into writers block, can’t figure out how to move your story from point A to point B or can’t choose between two possible endings you always have a place to turn. By asking various members of your writing group they will provide you with the guidance you need to write your best possible story.