Writing Group Junkie

Posted on 19 August 2010

I’ve been a member of almost too many writing groups to count. I’ve been in large, community-based groups with more than 20 participants in each workshop, and I’ve been in groups with only three people. I’ve met in libraries, in universities, in homes, in coffee shops, in restaurants, and in an abandoned (?) futon factory. I’ve gone to groups made up of mostly beginners and I’ve been in groups with such seasoned writers that I felt I had little to contribute.

I’ve seen members turn defensive, hopeful, angry, snarky, jealous, intimidated, heartbroken, heartened. I’ve been in groups where people argued, or cried, or laughed out loud at someone’s work. I’ve suspected some members of trying to undermine the writers they considered a threat, while at other times, complete strangers helped restore my faith in my own writing. I’ve been in groups that felt competitive, and I’ve been in others that were more like a group hug. I’ve been in workshops where everyone is timed when giving their comments, while other groups were a complete free-for-all. I’ve been in workshops where I’ve been (bizarrely) propositioned, where I’ve made wonderful friendships, or where I’ve wanted to run screaming by the end. I’ve been in groups that have gradually fallen apart, or ended definitively, or that continued to thrive once I had to move on.

Over the years, I’ve learned a thing or two from all of these writing groups. First, there are a lot of writers out there, writing all sorts of things from all walks of life at all levels of experience. There’s something really wonderful about that.

I’ve learned that sometimes, a particular group might not be for me, even if it’s a good one.

I’ve learned that it can be very difficult to find a good group that “fits.” And I’ve learned that once you find a group that works for you, you need to hold onto it.

I’ve learned that writing groups lead to other writing groups — and that those new groups might be what you were really looking for.

Mostly, I’ve learned that writing groups are valuable for the sense of community and the push to actually write. Writing is such a private act that it helps to meet with others who share your dreams and anxieties. It serves as a good reminder that you’re not necessarily crazy for attempting this, and that there are others who might understand and even (if you’re lucky) encourage or push you toward your goals. There were times when I doubted that I was a writer at all until I went to workshop and spent a few hours discussing fiction with other writers. That made a big difference.

For years, when I wasn’t publishing or even submitting any of my work, one of the few external drivers for me to continue writing and revising was knowing I had a workshop submission deadline. If I hadn’t attended these writing groups over the years, I doubt I would have been as productive as I was. Some of the stories that will appear in Living Arrangements might not even exist if I hadn’t been such a writing group junkie. And I certainly would have missed out on meeting some amazing people, including a few I suspect will be life-long friends.

Finally, some of my writing group members pushed me to start submitting my stories to lit mags last year. I hadn’t submitted anything in ages and I’m not sure I would have started if it hadn’t been for their encouragement and support. In the short time since then, I’ve received some acceptances, was named a finalist in a few contests, and won a collection contest that will result in my first book publication. None of this might have happened if I hadn’t sought out writing groups over the years.

That’s what makes it all worth it to me, and why I encourage other aspiring writers to try to locate groups of their own. I might not want to relive some of the negative experiences, and I might still run screaming if forced to return to some of the more toxic groups, but I’m grateful nonetheless.

Photo: SouleMama


3 responses to Writing Group Junkie

  • Cougel says:

    Hey Laura, I just read your piece “why we write” in Poets. & Writers and it moved me, inspired me, and brought me to your website. Thank you for that. I’m at that anxiety provoking juncture where my first novel (fiction) got me a literary agent and the book is out to pubs right now. The inevitable passes are coming in, and my agent is pointing out the common note from 3 of the 10 editors. Although others contradicted those 3. She wants me to rewrite before we keep going, which i would do if the note was specific and if I believed it had merit. So I’m consumed with self-doubt and a bit of paralysis over where to go next. Your essay in P&W must have known how to find me. Congrats on your recent success and relief, and I’m glad you’ve kept going so that writers like me can keep reading.

  • Cougel says:

    P.s. What I meant to ask you is how do you find writing groups which you can devote time to? Do you write full time?

  • Thanks again for your kind words! No, I only wish I could write full time. I have a full time job and have to work at finding the time to write before and after work and on the weekends. It’s tough, but doable.

    The first writing groups I joined when I moved to Cleveland were larger community-based groups held at libraries or universities, etc. Through those groups, I learned of others or branched out and started new groups with certain members. You can check libraries to see if they have postings for writing groups, or even try Meetup.com, etc. If all else fails there are online critique groups, which might work better if you have a tight schedule. Most of the groups I’ve been in met only one a month, so it’s not too hard to make the time commitment. Good luck!

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