A Writing Group is an Anchor…in a good way.

From Zany Holidays Blog

I’ve been hanging out with a great group of people lately.

Once every two weeks, I pull my car into a small parking lot behind an old convent, run up two long flights of stairs, and sit down at a table with other like-minded individuals.

We are all writers.

I paid for my seat at the table and, in doing so, committed to a block of time that throws a wrench into my weeknight schedule of dinner, books and bedtime for two small kids. But, when I received an email asking if I wanted to return for the next session of Roundtables, I looked past my Mother Writer guilt to four reasons why these sessions are vital to my writing career:

1. I read my work out loud during each meeting. We all do. The group is run in a very egalitarian style. I’m nervous every time I read. Still, I love this aspect of the session for the exact reason that Delia Lloyd mentions in her Huffington Post article, “5 Tips for Productively Editing Your Writing,” (which I found via Lisa Romeo Writes).

Reading out loud, Lloyd says, helps you discover your voice.

You not only hear the repetition and the over-writing. You can also hear whether or not you sound too stifled, too casual, too funny or too sharp.

Besides finding my voice, reading my work to others forces me out of my comfort zone. Margaret Atwood says, “You need a certain amount of nerve to be a writer.” I agree. And, each time I read, I put myself out there as a professional writer and, in the process, gain more courage to be that writer.

2. I get instant feedback. In the January issue of The Writer magazine, Robin Garland interviews a story consultant and agent, Lisa Cron, and asks what makes a good story.

“A [good] story,” Cron says, “must have the ability to engender a sense of urgency from page 1.”

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com

Sharing my latest chapter with a live group of writers gives me a pretty good idea – right away – whether or not my story will keep a reader engaged.

This in-the-moment critique was new to me, but I’m beginning to appreciate the quality of it. Though, I know I don’t need instant feedback to continue with my rewrite, I don’t want to move on to the next chapter until I know I’m in a good place with the current chapter, not this time around anyway.

3. My draft reads more consistent. Writing a novel is daunting, and I procrastinate when projects seem overwhelming. For the last two years, I’ve worked in spurts on this novel and then put it down. When I did get back to it – after too long a break – the tension was lost. The draft felt fractured, unstructured, and too loose.

In just a short time, I knew that the feedback I received from the other writers at the Roundtable was invaluable. Finishing another chapter rewrite by the next session became a concrete deadline I didn’t want to ignore. And, with shorter breaks between revisions, I had less problems remembering where I left off and where I was headed.

4. I benefit from more camaraderie and support. I could tackle this novel alone, huddled over my laptop in the cold basement of my house. But, I focus better and am more driven to finish when I’m surrounded by the warm bodies of other writers.

Yes, I’ve met so many great writers on Twitter, She Writes, and (now) Facebook, and I wouldn’t trade those connections for anything — many of them have become fast friends and staunch supporters. But, we all live miles and states apart. While I treasure the ethereal influence they have on my writing, I need the presence of writers in close proximity just the same.

Sitting at that table has a tangible affect on my writing. I am tethered to my work in a new way that fuels my determination to finish this novel. And, my place in that group completes  another piece of my puzzle in becoming a writer.

~

What has a writing group done for you lately?

*****

Garland, Robin. “The Love of a Good Story.” The Writer. January 2011: 34-35, 55. Print.


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23 responses to “A Writing Group is an Anchor…in a good way.

  1. Love that you are part of that group. Although the reading aloud made me anxious just reading it to myself. But having that instant feedback must be so helpful. Good for you!

  2. Good article. I enjoyed reading it.

  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention A Writing Group is an Anchor…in a good way. | Writing Under Pressure -- Topsy.com

  4. Great post. I am part of a writers group (we have six members) and I find their insight and the variety of knowledge invaluable. In genre writing it is easy to pigeon hole yourself, whereas if you have people from a broad range of genres you get a more broad opinion. We have come to really appreciate each others opinions and look forward to sharing our work and encouraging one another.
    Good luck and I look forward to future posts,
    Emily Harper

    • Thanks for stopping by, Emily. And, I agree, it is great to have a variety of writers in a group. I’m just as inspired by the work of writers in other genres, as they move through the process, as I am by writers in similar genres.

  5. Great post, Christi. I’m so glad you’ve found a writing group, especially one that’s so valuable to you. Bravo for reading your work out loud; that is a very big deal. Most of us just want to write, not read to someone else what we wrote. 🙂 I’m grateful for the friends (like you!) I’ve made on Twitter, SheWrites, and in the blogosphere; I wouldn’t trade them for anything, but it would be nice to be part of a local group. So far, I haven’t found one, but, thanks to your post, I think I’ll put more of an effort into finding/creating something after the holidays are over. Thanks for being thought provoking again!

    • I’m glad the post inspired you, Beth. Local groups are difficult to find. Becky Levine’s book, The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide, is a great resource as you think about how to find a group or how to start one.

      I wish we lived closer! 🙂

  6. I had to drop out of my writing group because of time constraints, but felt the same — the immediate feedback and the support kept me on track every week. In my group we read each other’s work outside of class and made written comments. That helped me start seeing my own work with a more objective eye. We marked well-written, engaging passages with check marks as well as commenting on weak areas which also helped me see the good parts of my work instead of fixating on the flaws.

    Reading out loud is, IMO, the best self-editing tool there is. It’s sometimes tiring and hard on the voice when reading my entire novel in chunks of 60-90 minutes (I read into a recorder then play back), but helps reveal so much — the repetition and other difficulties that Lloyd mentions as well as false dialog and awkward sentence structure. Hearing the words also brings out other things the eye fills in such as illogical action sequences.

  7. Great post! I am in a writing group as well…one that is 6 people strong. The core of us met via a personal essay class some years back and then we added on two. We range from a poet to short fiction focusers to novelists and essayists (and those that dabble in it all). Many in the group are more published/established then me, so that is a motivator–to see the success through struggle of others. I agree that the reading out loud and instant feedback is beyond helpful. It puts the words better into my ears vs. just my brain from reading to myself alone.

  8. Loved your post, Christi. The way you share your writing journey is something special — as are you.

    And you know I’m a huge proponent for reading one’s work out loud. It can make all the difference in the world when polishing a manuscript

    Happy Holidays to you and yours!

  9. I really enjoyed this post! I’m having a hard time finding a local writing group that fits, but I will keep looking!

  10. I haven’t had luck in connecting with a local group for various reasons. Partly it’s because we’re a small city in population but have a tonne of urban sprawl. Also, I’m finding many authors look down their noses at romance writers. However, I do miss the deadlines for all the reasons you mention.

    In the new year I’m going to try something new, which is word sprints with other writers online. I’m eager to see how it works.

    • Jan,
      I’m lucky I live in a bigger city, but even so, good groups are still tough to find. It’s too bad any author looks down on the genre of another. The group I’m in right now has a variety of stories being read around the table, and I learn a little something about the writing process from each one.

      I don’t know much about word sprints, but I’m curious. I hope you’ll keep us updated. And, I hope it turns out to be a great experience!

  11. I really enjoyed my writing workshops in college, although sometimes the er, pretentiousness of some of the writers was exhausting 😉

    I haven’t had much luck in finding a permanent group in my post-academic life — mostly because of time contraints — but you’ve inspired me to give it another chance. The benefits are very real, and I know I need more than the once every few months that I’m currently getting. Twitter and blogging are very helpful, but nothing beats person-to-person contact and critique.

    • Amanda,

      Yep, time constraints are my biggest challenge, too. So far, it’s working out for me with this group. I’ll keep going for as long as I can.

      I hope you find a group and time that works for you. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have some sort of computer program that allows writers to meet online but “in person?” Can you do group meets with something like Skype? Not that it would be quite the same as warm bodies around a table, but still…for us Mother Writers, I’d take it.

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