Anatomy of a Writing Group

Author Jane Wenham-Jones in her brilliant book  ‘Wannabe A Writer?’ lists the various characters which populate an average writers’ group. There will be: a deaf old lady; a man called Brian or Stan who has written a History of the Town; a woman of a certain age and girth who wears a sensible skirt; a pimply young man who is writing a fantasy novel; and a shy young girl who’s joined because her mum thinks she should get out more.  A quick straw poll among writing friends and from my own writing group experience suggests this is a very accurate representation!

I really enjoyed the diversity of my old writing group, of which I was a founder member.  People from varying walks of life and very different personalities — and, it has to be said, writing ability — came together once a fortnight with a shared interest: writing, that great leveller.  The retired, the curious, full-time homemakers, professional people, students, the unemployed, serious writers, published novelists, tentative scribblers and the terrified made up a varied and dynamic group.

Just five of us attended the inaugural meeting in a local pub one autumn evening and now, although work commitments and a house move mean I no longer attend, the group boasts over thirty members, has published three anthologies, runs a weekly newspaper column and hosts regular events such as Open Mic nights, parties and stalls at the local carnival and history day.   Lifelong friendships have been formed and many writers have gone on to have their work published.

It’s not always so convivial.  A friend’s writing group has massive infighting due to politics, huge personality clashes and a lot of bickering over the tea and biscuit rota.  As the piece de resistance, one memorable evening two members, both elderly gentlemen, rolled up sleeves and squared up to each other over the ‘constructive feedback’  that one had made over the other’s piece.  Just as with church flower rotas which, I am led to believe, are fraught with power trips, favouritism and jealousy, I have heard of several writing groups imploding under the sheer weight of artistic differences and involving break-away factions setting up rival groups.  My friend claimed that her group provided some priceless social observation which went on to fuel her own writing.

My experience was mainly positive.  I was hugely impressed with the raw talent, support and encouragement emanating from my group. Everyone was so passionate about their writing.   In fact, so keen was everyone that a strict ten-minute clock had to be observed to allow everyone a turn to read out their work.  Criticism was nearly always constructive and praise was always given where due.

I think I largely have my writers’ group to thank for gaining the confidence I needed which set me on the road to becoming a published writer.   I loved being with people who just ‘got’ my burning desire to write.  Before then, I used to look at writing as my guilty little secret.  In fact, when I met my husband, I told him I was at an AA meeting on alternate Wednesday nights rather than ‘fess up that I was at a writers’ group.  Now I’m out of the closet and able to indulge my passion in public.   Writing can be a lonely business, just you and the blank page, and building a support network of like-minded people is hugely nurturing and a vital lifeline.

So if you have a local writers’ group, do join in.  It will be an enriching experience.

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