I’ve been attending the Swindon Free Writer’s Group for six months now, having joined through NaNoWriMo 2013. I got asked recently by a work colleague about writing groups, so I figured it was about time I sat back and reflected…although I know some of the Swindon Writers read this, so I’ll be nice!
Conclusion: basically, it’s been amazing.
Ok, ok, I’ll write some more thoughts…
The major benefit of a writing group is having feedback on personal writing projects.
I have most definitely appreciated being able to get feedback from another group of writers. It’s all very well giving writing out to friends and family, and the feedback is often incredibly helpful, but it is hard for non-writers to give specific “this is what isn’t working” notes. Writers are able to pick out specifics, to ignore anything that you’re working on, to be detailed or high-level as necessary, and to understand and appreciate writing style. It’s also really good to be able to direct the critique, to discuss it, and to delve into the reasons if necessary – I find it hard on forums sometimes because all you get is a list, and you have no idea of why it’s been given (and in some cases, who has given it). The personal and face-to-face aspects are really helpful.
On the downside, it can be incredibly hard to have your work torn to pieces (although everyone is polite about it) and critiqued, particularly in person. It does take a large amount of courage to hand something over to strangers! However, the thing I have been trying to keep in my mind is that not everyone will like everything: critique is always someone’s opinion. I have always tried to appreciate what people are telling me, but if it doesn’t work – if I have written something for a reason, if I think that actually that style does work, if it simply comes down to “I like it” – then feedback can be ignored. You write in your own way. It can be improved, but it shouldn’t turn into anyone else’s writing.
Personally, I have found having the network brilliant. I have submitted Madcap Library and, to the most recent Writer’s meeting, a first draft of DS&S (see my previous blog post for what I submitted). The feedback has been really helpful, and it’s also helped my confidence: I was very nervous about submitting DS&S (ML at least I had ironed out the creases – DS&S was literally a first draft!) but everyone liked it, and the feedback I got showed I am working in the right direction.
[EDIT: a friend commented that sometimes having multiple writer’s groups can help with getting feedback, as everyone has different opinions, and some groups will be stronger on particular aspects/types of writing. Possibly good advice if you do write multiple types of things or like getting multiple opinions – and have time for multiple groups! I admit the thought of attending more is too overwhelming for me to want to go down that route.]
Other benefits: you realise you’re not alone, which is really helpful!
I sometimes feel like I am working in a vacuum – I write alone (Jon will tell you my reaction if I get disturbed when I’m writing…) and even sending things out to a publisher or my editor is an individual process. Being able to discuss wider aspects of writing – character ideas, plots, genres – and be able to do some odd writing with the various tasks and skits that we do is a break from the normal, and reminds me that there is a wider world out there. Discussing what we’ve read or seen recently, why we like something, getting book suggestions…it all brings me out of my own little world of “gottawritegottawritegottawrite”.
I’ve also been able to offer help and feedback to other people, and understand my own writing better. I admit that I fail badly at English Language and Literature – I don’t understand the basics of grammar, I don’t understand the wider genres, I don’t understand the wider aspects of how or why I write things. Hearing other people’s feedback and realising that I feel the same is a good way to understand what exactly it is I am objecting to or liking, and understanding my reactions to writing. I sometimes feel that I’m learning as much from the feedback on other people’s writing as I am from the feedback on my own!
And lastly: friends.
I’ve made some really good friends. I’m involved in several projects with people I’ve met through Writer’s, including music and RPG, and it makes for a nice dynamic in the entire group both inside and outside the monthly meetings. The external friendships also mean I can bug people for writing feedback on other things: several people have had the full text of ML, for example, which I wouldn’t want to give to the monthly meeting due to length. My social life has exploded (which has been moderately inconvenient due to work and house and the need to actually get some more stories finished) but that’s also been amazing. I caution that not everyone would get the same thing: I know several people are only really involved with the group for the monthly meetings, which suits them, but I seem to have got myself dragged into a whole world of external projects as well…
So, another conclusion:
I have found the Writer’s group to be a really positive experience. There’s a huge amount that anyone can give without submitting their own work for critique; and in fact, it’s better if people don’t – I’d hate to have 10 critiques to read each month on top of the rest of my workload! It’s been brilliant to simply have a forum to talk about writing (and anything else that comes to mind), share stories and simply meet people. I’d highly recommend to anyone who’s not involved in a group to check out if there is a local one, or get involved with NaNoWriMo 2014!