What do you get out of a writing group?

I’ve run a writing group since March 2008 and noticing Louise Wise’s ‘Why writing groups are crap’ blog post (http://shar.es/HXy1O) mentioned on Twitter, I felt compelled to reply. I agree with what she says but am fortunate (it is luck the people that you get and I’m grateful that I’ve never had to ask anyone to leave) that I don’t have the likes of ‘Ain’t I Brilliant’ (all my guys are true writers where they don’t realise their talent unless it’s proven with a competition win / shortlist), whilst I do make them coffee (although mostly tea, with some cold drinks) I don’t feel that anyone is there just for the coffee (at £1 for as much as you can drink it’s great value but then there’s petrol and having to sit for 2 hours+ if they really didn’t want to).

We did have two retired gentlemen; one of whom is unfortunately ‘off sick’, the other realises that despite being retired time is too pressing and has taken a sabbatical to spend more time with his wife, another (perhaps a little more gentle with feedback) writing group he belongs to (as do I, so he still gets the free handouts) and all the hobbies that he’s accrued since giving up work. We do have a student who sometimes attends with her dad (our, now, token male who does shift work so can’t always make it).

If someone has to be labelled the Minute Taker, then I guess that would be me, as lead of the group, but like everyone else, the notes I make are usually constructive criticism. Some of my writers write for pleasure but most wish to be published and with this in mind, we are firm but fair saying things like “well, that bit doesn’t quite work, how about…” or (on longer ongoing pieces) “oh, I don’t think he’d do that”.

We are very lucky that we all get on so well. Some of us have known each other, as writers, for years. Others are new. Whilst I’ve never been in the position of having to ask anyone to leave, I have been careful who joins; usually on recommendation from other writers.

So, whilst a writing group may not be everyone’s cup of tea (or coffee), it’s an invaluable tool in getting objective feedback on a piece that you may think polished but then find something you’d not thought of or overlooked.

Like anything, if you don’t try, you’ll never know and as writers, we lead a solitary enough life already so a meeting of literary minds might just be the tonic you need to go with the gin that’s getting you through your writer’s block.

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