The Internet is full of horror stories about writer’s groups. Mismatched expectations. Personal criticism. Bad wine. So it was with some trepidation that I went ahead and joined one.
But here’s the reasons why.
My new writing group consists only of my former HardCopy colleagues, or at least a subset of eight who live in and around Melbourne. I already know and like these women. HardCopy chaps were welcome to join us but I’m glad, now, to find the group is all chapettes. I enjoy the company of women – particularly smart, funny and entertaining ones like these.
We all write non-fiction. Apparently that’s important. HardCopiers who belong to other writing groups, or who have more workshopping experience than me, have explained that it’s much harder to provide feedback across genres. Sometimes those writing in a genre different to your own just don’t get it.
And crucially, because of that HardCopy background and selection process, I went in knowing that everyone in the group can write. Really write. Which has so far ensured that the feedback they provide is meaningful, considered and useful.
At our first meeting we agreed a set of rules, which eventually and happily numbered ten. Yes, of course we refer to them as The Commandments. Der. Our first rule of Write Club is “No talking about Write Club.” What we discuss and who we are and what we are writing must remain within the group – even the rules. That’s why I’m only speaking in generalities here. But the rules help to provide us with purpose and form, and keep us on track when tempted to stray.
In overview, we meet monthly in the foyer of a city hotel. Brilliant central venue, comfy seats and wine and nibbles to hand. Those who want to can submit a piece of 1500 words or so; I tend to simply find a 1500 word section of my manuscript and submit that. Then we all read those pieces beforehand and at the meeting provide feedback. A certain amount of time is allocated for the provision of feedback for each piece, to ensure everyone gets a fair go. It’s such a simple concept but the resultant conversations are fascinating. Of course we sometimes disagree. Of course we take on board some of the feedback and let other things go. And of course I’m learning to be a better writer and – probably more so – a better editor. In being exposed to the various writing styles of the other members, and in being forced to read closely and carefully in order to be able to contribute something useful I’m finding that I’m learning an awful lot about structure, pace and narrative voice.
New writers are often encouraged to workshop their pieces but I wonder if that is wise. From personal experience, I know that feedback from very new writers isn’t always very helpful or insightful. They often try too hard to be kind. And in being so kind they may also be inclined to take on board ALL the feedback instead of having the confidence to sift the wheat from the chaff. To mix my metaphors, there’s a danger of ending up with a camel. That is, a horse designed by a committee.* But I’ve found that if I take the feedback home and think on it, it informs my writing in lots of interesting ways even if I don’t necessarily adopt every suggestion.
So despite my initial fear and trepidation, the feedback, support and friendship I’ve received from this group have been marvelous. Long may it prosper!
* Look, I love camels too. It’s a metaphor. Let it go.