A couple of months ago, a tweet from the author Bianca Marais came up in my Twitter timeline. In it, she was putting out a call to the writing community. The gist of it was that anyone looking to join to a writing group, they should email her with their name, writing genre, and location, and she would do her best to match them with other writers in their area. This seemed, to me, like an extremely generous thing to do – and also potentially quite time-consuming! In the end I think she had over 200 emails from writers looking for their community. Including me.
As you know, I attend a lot of book and author events, and one of the things that’s always struck me when authors are chatting about their work, their process, etc. is how many of them speak so eloquently and exuberantly about their writing groups. “But, writing is so solitary!” is what I always think when I hear that, and it definitely is. So where do these groups come from?
Much like I have never been part of a book club, I have also never been part of a writing group, and while I have wanted that to change for quite some time, I didn’t really know how to go about forming a writing group or finding a group of people who all like and trust each other enough to read their work.
A few years ago I took an intro creative writing course through a local college and it was great. It took a few weeks for the group to gel (as it typically does) but by the final few classes, a core group of students seemed keen to continue the discussion after the course ended. We established our first couple of meetings, get-togethers, whatever you want to call them, but we went in not really knowing what to expect, not laying any ground rules, not managing any expectations as to how things were going to happen. I am a person who likes structure and who also likes to know ahead of time what the plan is, and while I really liked the people in the group, I found the group itself kind of stressful.
The great thing about Bianca’s offer was that she also runs workshops on how to organize and participate successfully in a writing group, how to establish the guidelines needed, how to avoid some of the common pitfalls groups might encounter.
Writing groups, she tells us in the workshop, tend to mostly happen organically. It could be the people you bond with during your MFA or throughout a writing course, much like my creative writing class. Or you might be lucky enough to have a group of friends who write and who want feedback and encouragement and all the things you get in a writing group. And if you don’t, well that’s where Bianca’s generous offer comes in.
And so, a few days after I sent my email telling Bianca that I wanted her to magically find me some writing people, she came through in a very big way, and our group of five was formed.
Once she had assigned everyone to their groups she told us that the rest is up to us. We are the ones who need to establish our ground rules, our plan for making the group work. And with the help of her workshop (which THREE of us from our newly formed group attended and Bianca referred to us as “Type A Capricorns” which for me, anyway, totally tracks) we met via Zoom and got to work.
It’s a lovely group of people, and even one familiar face (hi Sarah!) and I felt so comfortable with everyone. I think we’re going to be a good fit.
By the end of day this coming Monday, the members who are submitting their work for critiquing will have sent it to the rest of us, and the following Monday is our first official meeting, and I am really excited.
I’m excited to share my work, of course, even though I’m a little nervous about that, but I’m more excited to read the work of the others in the group. It feels like such a privilege to be granted the opportunity to read fresh work, to be among the first to see a writer’s early drafts. We are so used to seeing the finished products in the books, stories, articles, and essays – and blog posts – we read, it’s easy to forget that these things don’t emerge, fully formed and onto the page straight from the author’s brain. I mean, if only, right?
And writers know that there is so much editing and deleting and reworking and revising that goes into these projects, writers know that for a fact. I know that for a fact! Yet we forget, and when we read a perfectly crafted story that seems effortless in its execution, we forget that a whole lot of sweat, and probably some swearing, (maybe even tears although that could just be me) occurred, to ensure that this story seemed to float effortlessly to life.
I think this is what I’ve been needing, honestly. Likeminded people, writers who will hold me accountable, and I in turn will do the same for them. Writers who will push me to be better, to dig deeper if that is what is required, to ease off, if it’s more that. (with me it’s probably more that, but anyway.)
All I know is I can’t wait to get started.