Writing Groups: How? Why?

September 30, 2021 § 11 Comments

By Aimee Christian

A few years ago, I took a ten-week class at the creative writing school in my city. As the sessions drew to a close, we talked about what we would do next: a break, another class, a writing group, work with an editor? I couldn’t decide. I was so fired up about my writing that I wanted to do everything but take a break. 

I went for coffee with a classmate who seemed to have all the answers. I downed my Americano and asked her if she wanted to be in a writing group with me. 

“No,” she said with confidence. “Writing groups and classes are too much work spent on other people’s writing. I don’t want to read and edit other people’s pages anymore. I’m going to invest my time and money in an editor to work on my own pages.”

I thought she was wrong, so I wished her well and took another class. And another one. She was right: the classes were a lot of work on other people’s pages. But I was learning. With every editorial letter, every line edit, my eye got sharper. With every reading assignment, I was becoming better-read.

And when it was time to keep revising the same pages I’d generated in class, it was time for writing groups. During the pandemic, I’ve created and participated in groups that have helped my craft, my process, my accountability, and my entire writing life. Writing groups have solidified writing in my life in seven ways: 

1) Accountability

Some of my writing groups provided, or were specifically for, accountability. People who commit their goals to another person are more likely to accomplish them. Knowing someone can see me keeps my ass in the chair! I have ignored my family and foregone beautiful weather, woken early and stayed up late in the name of completing assignments I said I would.

2) Process

Making time for thought. Making time for my words to breathe. Making time for revision. Having two and three and four opportunities to workshop the same piece. Having group members to read something on deadline at the last minute, or cry with when something gets rejected for the tenth time. Making time to try again and again. Having a proverbial drawer for all those drafts moving through revision cycles and the many pairs of eyes they need. That’s process. 

3) Learning

Writers are notorious introverts—but we also love to talk, and we memoirists love to talk about ourselves in particular. Even in my silent Zooms, we use the chat function like crazy. Ask a memoirist for help and you will hear all the details about how they edited, who helped them, what classes they took, what books they read, where they submitted, what tier rejection they got, and more. You will get offers to read drafts—maybe even an offer to edit. 

4) Editing  

Editing other people’s pages and writing feedback letters have helped me see similar issues in my own writing. When I resisted someone’s feedback suggesting I kill a particular darling, cut a section I loved, or clarify something I felt the reader should understand, it became crystal clear to me why only when I found myself giving that very same feedback to someone else.

5) Motivation

Connecting with other writers and seeing their growth is powerful. Hearing where they’re submitting, where they’re being accepted, helping them achieve their goals always makes me feel like their success could rub off on me, and often it does! I belong to one online group that holds submission parties, and another whose participants commit to getting 100 rejections in a year. 

6) Hive Mind 

I subscribe to lots of writing newsletters and scan calls for pitches and submissions on Submittable and elsewhere, but a group of writers means a lot more sets of eyes. I love getting texts, Slack messages, and emails with calls for pitches and notes saying “Thought of you!” or “Have you seen this?”

7) Camaraderie

Meeting other writers, whether newer or further along in their work, is the best thing about any group. Writers are the kindest, most generous people I’ve ever met. Writers better-published than I have read and edited my pieces, recommended and loaned me books, connected me with other writers, and suggested outlets to pitch. In turn, I have done the same. We are the only people who understand each other’s writing woes, and because of this, I’ve made lasting friends.

So yes, a writing group is time and work spent on others’ pages. But it’s also time and work for your own. A group can improve your writing and introduce you to a life of literary citizenship. Want to know more about how? Create one. 

Join me in conversation about writing groups! How to form one, why to form one, how to improve yours. Leave with tools to make the most of your time, minimize your efforts, and achieve your goals. First session is Sunday October 10th7:00 – 8:30 pm EST. Info and registration on this page

______________________

Aimee Christian writes creative nonfiction, essays, and memoir about identity, adoption, parenting, and disability. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Cognoscenti, Pidgeonholes, Entropy, Hippocampus, the Brevity Blog, and more. She reads creative nonfiction for Hippocampus and is an instructor at GrubStreet. Find out more about Aimee and her writing at aimeechristian.net

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§ 11 Responses to Writing Groups: How? Why?

  • rachaelhanel says:

    This is perfect! I’m going to share this in writing workshops that I teach. When I say that writing groups are the most important way to improve your writing, I get a lot of wide eyes in response! It’s amazing how many people just go it on their own and even publish without anyone else reading their words.

  • Nancy Julien Kopp says:

    I am in a small (20-25) international women’s online writing group. The critiques are honest but fair. Reading them is akin to reading books about writing. We always have someone to turn to for advice or a shoulder to cry on. We’ve become a sisterhood over the years. Members come and go, but a core group stays strong and steady, led by a caring, knowledgeable moderator. Our Mother Hen. I’m a group like this, you must be willing to give to the others while reaping the many benefits.

  • clpauwels says:

    Sharing this far and wide in the #WritingCommunity !

    I sorely miss my last writing group; member/focus shifts – and the death of my beloved writing partner – cut me adrift. I lean too heavily on the creative writing classes I teach as an adjunct, and on Twitter, for the camaraderie, but it’s not the same.

  • henhouselady says:

    I love my writer’s group. Thank you for sharing.

  • Andrea Firth says:

    Great essay Aimee, You hit on all the important benefits of writing groups. You really can’t understand how to work with feedback without being part of tat process from both giving and receiving. And yes it improves your reading and editing skills immensely–if you put in the time. Time well spent.

  • stacyeholden says:

    Great Essay! Such a timely reminder to connect and move forward…

  • Rich food for thought. I find writing groups do give me more information and help with the directions I want my writing to go. They are alot of work and sometimes stress. Still, when publishing they form a great “first beta reader.”

  • lgrizzo says:

    I couldn’t agree more! Thanks for your list of benefits.

  • maryn62 says:

    Thanks for your insights😀

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