Let’s Talk – Writing Groups

Let’s Talk Writing Groups

Over at the MHC LinkedIn Alumnae group, Mount Holyoke Wordwrights, an alumna moving to Boston posted for help in finding a writing group. Suggestions flowed in. Try Boston MeetUp. Visit a library. Try the Grub Street workshops. Check SheWrites.com. A journal was recommended, Creative Nonfiction, that apparently also offers online classes and activities. One writer weighed in that she believes there’s no substitution for an in-person group with some suggestions on starting your own group.

Which, brings me to Let’s Talk about writing groups. Steve Almond had an essay appear recently in The New York Times Magazine, “Why Talk Therapy is on the Wane and Writing Workshops are on the Rise.” Almond is mostly addressing what can happen in MFA workshops, but in the hands of unskilled facilitators, writing groups can also easily devolve into pseudo-therapy groups.

I’ve written before about my affiliation with RedBird-RedOak Writing in Milwaukee, where I pay to attend facilitated writing groups. The experience has always proven valuable for me. That’s not to say I’ve never tried unpaid, less formal writing groups. But, they’ve never lasted. I know they can, and do, but I haven’t yet had one that lasted much longer than a year. Someone always had to drop out, usually for family commitments, followed by someone else and the group fell away.

At the LinkedIn conversation mentioned earlier, Carolyn Pouncy recommended a book she found useful on setting up your own critique group, Becky Levine‘s The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide. Pouncy adds, “Levine discusses both how to critique various genres, which is useful even if you aren’t in a group, and how to find compatible writers and troubleshoot problems.”

If you’ve been successful (or even not) with setting up a writing group where you are, contact me if you’d like to do a guest post about your experience. Some dos and don’ts for fellow alumnae perhaps?

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2 thoughts on “Let’s Talk – Writing Groups

  1. My group is about to celebrate its fifth anniversary, so I think we qualify as successful. It’s had its ups and downs, though. We started with four, lost one member after two years (she moved south), interviewed several potential replacements but didn’t find one who was actually writing a novel (as the rest of us were). So we settled in as a trio, which has worked quite well. Two of us have finished novels while in the group, and the third has reinvented hers and is well on her way.

    I think the group works for three reasons. First, everyone focuses on constructive criticism (“you can make this better by,” not some version of “I hate this”). Second, we have a mix of “plot first” and “character first” writers, so we complement one another’s strengths. And third, we all started at about the same level, so we have progressed together. No one is the writing guru.

    I have found the group immensely useful and have seen my writing improve dramatically because of it, so I heartily recommend founding one if you can find compatible spirits. (Besides, where else can you moan about the characters talking in your head without sounding like you qualify for the lockup?)

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