Two By Two

February 20, 2018 § 17 Comments


I’ve never been a writing group person.

We can’t leave until Janie gets back from the bathroom. Again.

1) I travel a lot (you may have noticed) and it’s hard to commit to meeting regularly with the same group.

2) It’s hard to find the right group.

Honestly, “right group” is the biggest obstacle. I would–and have–driven hours to write with the right people. I’ve extended stays in cities where good writing people live, fought down jet lag, gone through airport security twice on a layover to meet a writing pal in the landside coffee shop. Why go to the hassle when there’s plenty of Meetup groups in my hometown?

The right people are worth a lot of effort.

The wrong people, on the other hand, are a waste of writing time. Groups focused on genres I don’t write, or on self-publishing (no shade, but I need writing time, not marketing chat). If a group is way above my level, it’s hard to get good feedback–they aren’t working on the same craft issues I am. If they’re all beginners, I end up teaching people I don’t know for free. The jolly glow of literary citizenship is great, but it’s not what I’m looking for in a writing group.

Over at LitHub, Kaethe Schwehn points out why many writers are reluctant to start or join writing groups:

Though I don’t explicitly remember talking about writing groups in graduate school, I think many of us there subconsciously believed in the myth of the solitary genius. You know, the writer who tirelessly believes in himself, day after day, month after month, year after year, although no one offers him accolades or affirmation. The one whose faith in his own work is unflinching. And then one day THE WORLD UNDERSTANDS HIS GENIUS and he sells his books and buys a home on Cape Cod. The serious writer always did it alone. Sure, he might have a trusted reader or two to whom he sent a draft of his manuscript but he certainly didn’t have a group of friends over on a monthly basis for merlot and brie and casual conversation. Writing groups were a swamp of gossip and sentiment into which no serious writer would descend.

Schwehn also sings the praises of finding a group that’s the right fit, saying the mix of cheerleading and critique can be more effective than only picking work apart. That having a small writing community lets authors discuss craft and concepts beyond specific manuscripts, and that working in a group without an official leader allows freer exchange of ideas, without jockeying to earn the teacher’s approval for ‘best critic.’

I absolutely hear this. And I have it. Just a little differently. My writing ‘group’ is two great buddies I meet with 3 days a week when I’m home in Dubai. They haven’t met the writing buddy I sit down with when visiting my mom in Florida, or my first reader/muse I email and text and phone. Peripheral members include the blogging community I sat down with in a London co-working space, and the NaNoWriMo groups I sidled into last November. I wasn’t doing a novel in a month, but timed writing sprints among 30 people focusing in a Pret-a-Manger basement got me to my daily goal on a cold and lonely day. Sometimes, my group and I read to each other out loud or exchange work. Sometimes we set a goal at the beginning of a writing session–number of words, a blog post, number of submissions sent out or pages edited–and check in at the end on how we did (my favorite!). Sometimes we smile and say “Nice to meet you,” while packing up our laptops and forgetting each other’s name.

I wish I was a solitary genius, but I’m not. I can and do write alone, but it’s a lot more fun with other people around. The energy of showing up (and let’s face it, showing off–look, I’m still typing! Everyone else keep going!) fuels me, makes me finish that chapter I wanted to quit in the middle of–but everyone else was still going.

Your writing group might be on Meetup or the NaNoWriMo forums or online at Wattpad or Absolute Write. It might be a friend you know is typing something–anything. (I finished my chapter! You finished your expense report! Go us!) There’s no right way to do a writing group.

Yeah, sometimes people think it’s weird that I showed up once for their group meeting and came back a year later. But when I come back I’m ready to work, with whoever wants to work with me.

Read Kaethe Schwehn at LitHub on finding and keeping a great writing group. And let me know if you’re ever in Dubai–I know a great coffee shop.

___________________________________

Allison Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor. She’ll be leading a writing-group-ish-thing in India in June.

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§ 17 Responses to Two By Two

  • kjboldon says:

    Sorry to be a proofreading nerd, and she does two extremely challenging names to spell, but you’ve misspelled her last name; it’s Schwehn.

    On Tue, Feb 20, 2018 at 7:23 AM, BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog wrote:

    > Allison K Williams posted: “I’ve never been a writing group person. 1) I > travel a lot (you may have noticed) and it’s hard to commit to meeting > regularly with the same group. 2) It’s hard to find the right group. > Honestly, “right group” is the biggest obstacle. I would-” >

  • A memory from many years ago: Marilyn Chin sitting across from me in our living room and the two of us talking and talking about writing and writers. Did it make me a better writer? I don’t know, but I have enough history to know that few writers (or visual artists) create without a strong peer group. I have tried unsuccessfully to find a writing group because I know it would be healthy for my writing, but yes, the poet who did “not have patience for prose” or the one who only wanted to get high. The writers who ned help with grammar, but won’t accept it. . . .

  • I swear by writing groups, and run one myself because I couldn’t find one that was doing what I wanted (critique and write-ins, chances to work on projects). I’ve hit my highest words per hour rates in the company of others, and find the accountability to be the best weapon in my armory.

  • Alice Solovy says:

    I learned quite a bit from a large writing group that featured speakers who had books published and were prominent writers. I now belong to a small writing group that’s more of a share-and-critique group. I like it for the intelligent conversation and camaraderie. Over the years, I’ve had articles published in genealogy publications with worldwide circulation, had a couple of columns published in limited circulation publications, and self-published a historical novel. Some has been paid work and some has been volunteer.

    • Kaye Vivian says:

      Hi Alice. My experience is almost identical to yours, even to the genealogy work and historical novel. It would be great to be able to contact you. Or invite you to visit my small share-and-critique writing group if you ever get to the Houston area. Best wishes.

  • Perry L Shepard says:

    I’ve been in two writing groups in the past few years and found that in every situation I received something from the group that assisted my writing experience. I found I was able to give feedback on many levels but didn’t focus on grammar. I feel the writer has to struggle with that and unless it effected the voice, tense or some other syntax that effected the story I let it go or didn’t recognize the problem. Writing groups help.

  • […] via Two By Two — BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog […]

  • Writergirl says:

    I’ve gone to so many Meetup writing and critique groups here in my new town of Portland/Beaverton (Oregon), and most of the members write amateurish fiction that they want to publish/self-publish. I’m a poet, and I’d rather talk craft, because I can write anytime I want, and I’m pretty well-published. I’m looking mainly for companionship of like-minded poets. The open mic Meetups have been pretty awesome though, so that’s probably where I’ll concentrate on spending my time. However, I have recently found out about one that’s a poetry critique group, so we’ll see how that one pans out.

  • My writing group here in Surprise, AZ is filled with intelligent PhDs + several outstanding writers with no such credentials. Eleven of us from a wide variety of backgrounds work hard every week to help each other grow. Several books and many articles/essays have come from our shared laughter and tears. It has changed me and my writing – both for the better! TRUST is the key – – – and comparing comments.

  • […] recent conversation with a writer-friend made Allison K. Williams’s post on writing groups all the more interesting to […]

  • Wish we could meet and write, but the places between us don’t really appeal to me: Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait.

  • I have driven hundreds of miles to see my writing group. The right people make ALL the difference. When you say that being in a group fuels you, I know exactly that feeling. I’ve done some of my best writing and revising when I’m with my group.

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