Join a Writing Group!
Like many women authors, I have always considered writing a communal act. That’s why I have been in a writing group for over twenty-five years. As with many other auspicious encounters in my life, I found the group through my dog walking connections on a snowy day in Montpelier’s Hubbard Park. My Wheaten terrier, the late, great Watson, got into a friendly tussle with another dog. Talking to the owner, I discovered we were both writers. She asked me if I wanted to try out for the group. I brought my very first short story, which was well received, and I was accepted. Since then, writing group has become one of the most important parts of my life, giving me a bi-weekly writing deadline and a supportive audience. It’s also a place to share publishing woes and wins, to complain about hard times, and help each other with the key ingredient to success—perseverance.
Many members have come and gone over the years. Several have published their books and moved on; others have dropped out for lack of time, changes in life circumstances, or changes in writing needs. But several things about the group have stayed the same because they work.
For most of the years, we have met at my house every other Tuesday evening. We loosely follow Peter Elbow’s (Writing Without Teachers) guidelines for constructive criticism. Each member brings a piece she has been working on to read aloud to the group. When she is finished, we go around the table, offering our comments and suggestions as the reader listens silently. She is not allowed to argue or answer questions until each member has had her say. Though I often find it hard not to speak while my work is being critiqued, I know the silence rule gives me space to absorb the suggestions without being defensive or responding in the moment. This process has taught me to be not just a better listener, but also a better writer because I learn so much from looking closely at the work of others. In fact, I learned everything I know about writing fiction from this group. I could never have written A Dream to Die For without them.
Sometimes I look back and am amazed by the number of books we have produced. This stack is only half of what we have published. Quite an accomplishment, if I do say so myself.
When anyone asks what advice I would give a novice writer, I always say, “Join a writing group!” If you’re lucky enough to find one as good as mine, you’ll find yourself taking risks, exploring new territory, and discovering your own depths. For me and for many women, the daily isolation of the writing life can lead to self-doubt, procrastination and getting stuck in a rut. A writing group is the perfect antidote. By sharing our work, our successes and failures, and our fears and hopes, we help each other face that blank page, knowing we are not alone.