How Productive Is Your Writing Group?

Wasp eating a butterflyWorkshopping your stories with your peers is an essential part of developing your skills as a writer. By sharing your work with others and offering it up for critique, you can get a great sense of your writing’s strengths and weaknesses. However, just because you’re in a writing group doesn’t mean that you’re getting the constructive criticism you writing needs.

Writing groups tend to go wrong in a couple of ways. More often than not, thankfully, they tend to stray in the ‘too polite’ direction. It’s good for writers to encourage each other, and it never hurts to have a positive environment when you’re just beginning to write fiction, but there will come a point when someone needs to tell you that something doesn’t work. If your writing group is so devoted to positive comments that it neglects to point out flaws in its members’ writing, then it’s time to call this deficiency to your group’s attention. Praise is good when it’s earned, but respectful criticism is also essential to your development as writers.

On the other end of the spectrum is the toxic writing group. For some people, everything has to be a contest, and they will treat your writing like a performance that’s being measured against theirs. Although every writer should learn to accept blunt, honest criticism, there is no need to sit quietly while somebody insults you personally or suggests that you’re a hopeless writer. Criticism need not always be soft and fluffy, but it should point you in a direction that will help you improve your writing. Don’t be afraid to leave a toxic writing group behind. When the criticism of your work is focused more on the critic than on the work, it has ceased to be helpful, and your time is better spent with a more mature writing group.

Although most writers find their writing groups to be a source of helpful, constructive criticism, there are times when these groups veer off course. Be aware of when a writing group has become too polite or too rude, and don’t be afraid to speak up when you see the group headed in an unproductive direction! Writing groups should not be nurseries or wolves’ dens, but rather positive and¬†instructive spaces where writers can share, learn, and improve their craft.

Creativity in Numbers: The Advantages of Writing in a Group

Hornets' nestI spent this Sunday at a friend’s kitchen table. There were six of us sitting there elbow to elbow with a singular purpose in mind: draft a synopsis for a romance novella, and write nine thousand words of it.

Although only the most ambitious of us made it even halfway to the nine thousand word mark, we all went home feeling satisfied with the day’s work and more than capable of finishing the stories from the point where we’d left off. Even if you don’t wind up accomplishing great creative feats (and for me, nine thousand words on a balmy Sunday is exactly that), writing in a group can give you some wonderful things.

For starters, the feedback is instantaneous when you’re all gathered around a table, which makes it much easier to play with ideas. I think that we as writers often ask ourselves, “Is this silly?” with no real hope of getting an honest answer. Writing in a group can not only tell you whether or not your idea works, but also help you figure out what you’d have to tweak to make it work.

Writing in a group is also great for picking up new techniques and reexamining familiar ones. We all carry around in our minds a collection of narrative devices we’ve picked up from authors here and there. When you have five or six of these collections in a room, you wind up with a vast and powerful collection of writing tools at the disposal of the group. This is a great opportunity to really ‘talk shop’ about your narratives and figure out the mechanics behind the techniques you like the most.

A lot of people, myself included, prefer to write alone. However, I’ve found that writing in a group has some benefits that are well worth the occasional journey out of my comfort zone.