Shelley Widhalm

Benefits of writers groups

In Shelley Widhalm, Writers groups, Writing, Writing Processes on July 27, 2014 at 11:00 am

I seem to love this topic, but because I want to talk about the writer’s group that I joined three months ago, the Mountain View Authors, I have to be a bit repetitive.

For awhile, I was considering dropping out of the group, because it meets on Mondays (which is my Sunday because it is a day off), and it requires a great deal of work. There are six members in the group, and we rotate sharing our work every other week, submitting 15 pages of our manuscript or a short story or two that the other members have to read by a Sunday midnight deadline.

It felt like I was receiving homework.

But after a few weeks, I saw that getting feedback that had a deadline of a few days—instead of on-the-spot where members make suggestions the day of the meeting—gave me something to work with that was more in-depth.

The members make comments on two levels. They edit grammar issues and point out awkward sentences, but they also look at character, plot and scene development, setting descriptions, and the purpose or theme of the work.

I work through the comments, about 30 to 50 in the “insert comment” function, improving my manuscript from several sources, and layers, of feedback. The members offer different perspectives and levels of experience and understanding of the craft, pointing out different, and sometimes, the same areas of my work that need tweaking, fixing or redoing.

We talk about the comments during the meeting and, in some cases, start debating aspects of the work, such as whether characters respond in believable ways to their circumstances and if we find the story world to be consistent, accurate and compelling. I can see the areas of my work where the members are interested in my characters and story, and where they lost interest (indicated by pages of no comments, good or bad) and where they want to see and learn more about this world I created.

As a result, I am becoming a stronger writer after each meeting through seeing my work through the eyes of other writers, but also by analyzing what they write. When we talk about each other’s comments, I pick up hints about being a better writer, adding to my writer’s identity pieces of what make the other writers who they are when they face the blank page and begin to imagine and create and devise and live out new possibilities.

  1. I’m glad you’ve found a group that works for you. I am a huge advocate for critique groups. I have been in several over the years and appreciate the way a small group can read deeply into a work-in-progress. My critique buddies ask probing questions that have helped me flesh out thin parts of a manuscript and give me encouragement when I am feeling lost. The other great thing about working with a group is, by critiquing the flaws in someone else’s project, I can better see the flaws in my own work.

    • I find the same thing to be true that when you edit other writers’ work, you learn what to look for in your own work. I also like learning what other members of the group find to be awkward or a glaring error that I miss in my own stuff. It helps me be a better writer and editor.

  2. Wish I had a writing group I could join, but Norway doesn’t have any (not in Stavanger anyways). I compensate by joining online groups. Scribophile has been the most helpful site so far. Getting feedback outside the circle of friends/family is invaluable.

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