On Writing Groups …

Good or bad?

How much do you get out of yours?

I hear mixed things about writing groups and I know why. We met last night and we have a smashing group that appears to work — it gets people writing, entering competitions, sharing work and a large number of the group are published, competition winners or at least enjoying writing — and when it started in 2006 no one was — and a good number of these founder members remain.

I think the success of a group depends a lot on who’s running it and what the writers themselves want from it — being allowed to make suggestions and move it in the right direction. Feedback needs to be constructive, well given and all members need to know something about the others so when feedback is offered you know if it’s based on something solid — i.e. can you trust their opinion? Yes all opinion counts but it’s a bit like X factor — seeking the opinion most of Simon Cowell because he knows the business. ‘Oh I liked that’ is not enough.’ Don’t get me wrong, all opinion counts of course it does, but the really pull it apart, how to change it needs a little more! But as you work together you do refine this ability. And I should know! I now do it as a living!

What our writing group did, as it grew, now boasting close to 40 members, although we expect about 15 per meeting, was form satellite  critique groups so that those wanting it, could offer much more one to one, share work in advance type of feedback. My novel group closed at our faithful 4 members  and is amazing. It’s not about genre, we all write different things, so never think it has to be all the same genre — good writing is good writing, but the members need to be a similar standard if possible — that might be the hardest part to get right. I say this because otherwise you spend far too long on one person who gets the fundamentals wrong.  But there is a dichotomy there because you need someone with more experience to guide the group and learn from. But groups find their feet! Our group knows its stuff and that’s important to me. I need to know I really trust the opinion of the writers teasing my work apart. They are all published, one had an agent, 2 of us have MAs and all have attended numerous courses and know what we want. Others have joined and come and gone. But that’s because you must have the staying power and a novel, for its crit group to really work, needs people who come all the time otherwise you lose the continuity you need for critiquing a novel. How can you look at arc for example if you flit in and out. We’ve been going for a few years and several novels and when I move I will miss it.

The  main writing group is forming another novel group now as we had to close ours to new members.  I think you need to have about 4 members for it to work at its best or less as too many and you have issues with time, getting through them and the larger the group the more  likelihood that someone will be missing and if you haven’t looked at someone’s chapter for 2 months it’s hard to follow properly, so my feeling, or at least what worked for us, was small group, regular meetings, all similar ability (forget genre). And I’m sure the new group will find their feet — so long as they know something about novel-writing — this is the danger with anything of mixed ability — making sure the advice is solid. But we did okay and we learned a lot as we went along. And so will they, I’m sure.

We also have a great short story group I dip into once in a while, but I have to say not for a while but I tend to work Sundays when they meet — and a poetry group that does struggle for attendees and now tries to do it online.

We charge an annual sub of £10 which allows you access to the crit groups, pays for speakers etc and then £2 per night for the use of the room — a café that stays open for us. We meet in the evenings (which means we get people who work, day time groups tend to attract more of the retired folk — we get both!) and we meet once a month for the main meeting.

There, like any group, have been differences of opinion but as a rule it’s a great group and open to all suggestions and we often have guests or at least run little exercises or discussions — always trying to be flexible to meet members’ requests. And anyone is encouraged to run one of these ‘open forum’ sessions.

But I know of some groups you have to produce work and pass a test to belong to — er — how do beginners ever learn that way? Surely they need to work alongside the more experienced — at least in the main meetings anyway?

I guess for me what I get the most out of the group, since I don’t really need it to inspire me — because I will write, is the crit group for helping see what I can’t in my novel and the social aspect. The people in my group are my best friends — truly and the group rescued me at a tine when I needed someone. I was writing and needed feedback — sure, but I was also grieving after Lee died and suddenly this group became my life line — friendships that I know will last forever — beyond the writing meetings — so much more. Writing doesn’t need to be isolating is my message — loud and clear!  So if you can get the group dynamics right it will grow like a big pulsating mass spinning off the talent its nurtured! Now it sounds like a tumour — but you know what I mean, it’s something great and buzzy and happening — if you get it right!

If your group doesn’t work and there’s no flexibility then — join another.

We have structure to the meeting because you have to, but we are sometimes accused of a little too much chit chat. but I say this — since writing is something we do alone, then the meeting is more than a place to share ideas and work, it’s also a place to chit chat about writing too. The real work is what the meeting inspired you to go home and do — right? I can’t say that enough!

So what about you? What are your experiences?

Mary Ward, wonderful friend founded it in October 2006. I joined in April 2007 and then took over the chair in October 2007 until October 2010, now still Vice chair, but we have Daniel Dowsing  in the seat (following a year with writer Phil Thomas) and that’s about it. New leaders is essential for innovation or it stays in the same place. I hadn’t intended to be there 3 years but was voted in again but did decide 3 years was enough. Don’t want it to get stale.

I hope, when I move back to Canvey Island to start a writing group to meet like-minded people as they don’t seem to have one!

Thanks to Daniel our rather antiquated blog is now a proper website — take a look: http://www.bangorcellarwritinggroup.co.uk and we’re now a member of the National Association of Writing Groups so people can find us on their website too!

That’s all for today! Have a truly wonderful day! And remember to dance!


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Filed under Acceptance, Bad advice for writers, being a successful writer, Blogging, Critique, Critique groups, Crtiquing, Dreaming, How to edit opening chapters, ideas, Indentity, Learning to be a writer, Literary Fiction, Living the dream, MA Creative Writing, Mainstream Fiction, Mentor, Mentoring, Novel writing, Openings, Pace, Passion for writing, Publishing, Rejection, Rules in writing, Social networking, Story Arc, Story Arcs, Structure, Subplots, Subtext, Theme, Winning, Writing, Writing groups

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