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The Truth About Writing Groups

Celeste Chin

 

On the night of my first my writing group meeting, I battled the intense urge to leave before the readings even started. This group was not what I had envisioned: there was a guy I was convinced rode in with his biker gang, an older man that seemed like a sweet, timid grandfather, a woman who appeared like she spent more time at the spa than on a computer, and a disheveled guy who wore shorts and short-sleeve shirt in the middle of winter.  I remember slowly sinking into my seat and saying to myself, “These people write?” But what I slowly uncovered was the understanding that with all of our visible differences, we all shared an intense passion for writing. And despite my initial, albeit unfair assessment, I soon discovered their individual writing talents were remarkable.  

The grandfather was a stickler for certain rules and made all his edits in red ink. He would blast others who used the word ‘was’ in any sentence or used an unnecessary adverb–he considered it lazy writing. The biker dude could write a sentence that would leave you speechless. The spa lady could get you to see to the heart of every character and the shorts guy made you envision every excerpt like you were watching the story come to life on the big screen. I was in awe at their comfort with one another and to say I was a little intimidated would be an understatement. So, when it came my time to read, I said, “I didn’t bring anything with me tonight,” and I pushed my copies down further into my purse.

During a ritualistic morning walk a friend inquired about my writing group. I told her about my reluctance to share. She stopped, turned to me and said, “You joined this group to improve your writing, if you don’t open your mouth and share your work, you’re wasting your time and theirs.” At the next session when it came time to read, I read. Voice shaking and dry, I managed to get through. I had a momentary contemplation of running for the door as I uttered the last word, but I held tight. Once the critiques started, I calmed with each suggestion, edit, question, and insightful reaction. 

After those initial first meetings, my writing became more consistent. I feared the word ‘was’ or using too many adverbs. I broke out the dictionary and thesaurus to ensure appropriate word usage. I checked and rechecked every story ten times before the next session. And some readings I nailed it and others were a total mess. But every session was a hotbed of learning and growth.

As a writer, especially a new writer, I highly encourage you to join a writing group. No matter how good you are or think you are, your work will benefit from the perspective of others. These groups do more than help you edit your work; they provide camaraderie. They understand what it means to: have limited writing time, what it means when your well of creativity is dry, or when you are struggling with plot or character development–truths that a non-writer will never comprehend. These writing groups can be your greatest critics and your biggest supporters all in one. The trick for maximizing these benefits is to achieve goodness of fit. There should be a comfort and security present that even if your work doesn’t hit the mark and the edits are voluminous, you never feel under attack, just supported.

Now, I have heard from other writers who have not had the same positive experience with some of their writing groups. Like I said, search for goodness of fit. Find that group that challenges you in a productive and meaningful way. Find that group that you can connect with on a writing level and that you go to not just for edits, but inspiration when you have hit a stumbling block or encouragement when you are filled with self-doubt. A group that fits you will inherently learn your writing style and be able to get you back on track when you’ve been derailed. I promise you this: if the fit is there, you will run to your meetings and need them like a caffeine addict needs coffee. Do yourself and your future readers a favor, leave the protection of your computer, and share your work.

Celeste Chin