Should you join a writers’ group, or, if you are already a member of one, should you stay in it? At this early point in the new writing year, those questions are worth asking.
Whether you are a workshop veteran or a novice just starting with a club of compatible writers, every so often you should step back and reassess your participation in the group.
Here’s a basic checklist of the benefits you can get from joining a writing workshop.
• Feedback on your work.
• Deadlines for completing your work.
• Get-started prompts in an exercise-based group, and helpful reviews in a critique-based group.
• Lessons in rudiments such as grammar, structure, story development and character creation.
• Encouragement to push yourself past self-imposed limits and stretch your creative instincts.
• Ideas and contacts about writing conferences, writing contests and, most important, publishing your work.
• Inspiration from reading or listening to the work of others.
• Development of the ability to better critique your own work from critiquing others’.
• Camaraderie and support from fellow writers, as well as relief from the lonely pursuit of putting words down on paper or computer screen.
No list like this comes without some caveats. Here are three:
First, join a group that insists on both honesty and civility. On one side, you gain nothing from hearing only sweet praise. You need blunt assessments of your writing to improve. On the other side, your self-confidence and desire to write can be destroyed in a group whose default m.o. is to rudely rip everything to shreds. You should expect critiques of your work to be delivered with decency and sensitivity.
Second, beware of groups that require you to do a lot of reading of other writers’ material between meetings. That kind of homework can distract you from getting your own writing done. And you can fall into the trap of subconsciously letting another writer’s story and style seep into your own stuff.
Third, remember that, in the end, it is your writing. Newscaster Ann Curry was interviewed recently on the mediabistro website. She said that someone once told her:
“ ‘A lot of people give advice. Only listen to the advice that rings true in your gut, and even then, make sure you double-check before you make changes. If . . . something doesn’t feel or [sound] right, it’s not right. Listen to your own instincts.’ ”
Keep those words in mind as you workshop.