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23 December 2021

Join a writing group and become a better writer

Writing is a solitary activity, but it doesn't have to be something you do on your own. Finding a good writing group, one that is right for you, is the best thing you can do for your writing and writing career.

Writing groups come in many sizes, formats and frequencies. Through them, you discover that others are trying to do the same thing, struggling with the same overwhelming doubts and toiling in the same creative landscape.

You can meet likeminded others, no matter their background or circumstances.

Something as simple as meeting another writer who understands the challenges of writing a novel can bring dawn to the dark. Talking to other writers will tell you that everyone finds it hard. If they didn’t, they're probably lying about how much thinking time came before the writing!

Finding the right group

My top tip is to find a writing group that meets in person some of the time, (pandemic notwithstanding), and delivers a range of sessions for writers of different levels and genres. That way, you’ll find the support you need and gain new ideas, exercises and processes to try. Their community will be more diverse because they’re catering to writers from all walks of life, not just those who completed the same writing course.

Start with local groups that have sessions closer to home (or online) and offer the support you think you might need. If you’re not sure, go to one session. You’ll know within five minutes if the group is right for you. Try out as many as you can before deciding. Also, don’t be shy, ask for more information if you’re not sure. Most organisers are happy to answer questions if you’re a bit nervous of showing up on the day.

If writing is rewriting, as the saying goes, then all writers will need feedback at some point. Getting quality peer feedback is vital. Don’t spoil your first impression with an agent by sending them a first or incomplete draft. Take it to a writing group for a first pass from others who know their stuff.

Critique from friends and family is important. Your confidence can always use a boost from their praise and encouragement, but taking a piece to a writing group is a safe first step in the transition to strangers reading your work.

A friend who reads avidly can tell you they liked it, but they might say it 'got a bit slow in the middle'. Another writer can tell you why the pace is lagging, why it matters if it's not adjusted, and suggest how it might be tightened up.

In our sessions at London Writers’ Café, we ask ‘What's working well and what could be improved?’ We give constructive, practical advice to anyone who reads, to help them move the piece toward their original intention, whatever that may be.

Only another writer can perceive strengths and weaknesses and give you clues on what to do next. That said, writers are not professional editors, in the same way painters are not curators, but they're often just as insightful for emerging writers looking for input. Professional editing can easily come later if you feel you’ve got all you can from other writers.

Five reasons to join a writing group

  1. Social: writing groups that meet in person over a drink are invaluable. You’ll often find that’s where you’ll learn the most about writers and writing. Don’t run off straight after the session. Hang around and chat for a bit.
  2. Creative process: every writer has a process for creating their stories, although it can change with each project. You’ll share tips and tricks from others that will help inform your own way of working.
  3. Finding your level: going to a writing group to find out what others are up to is fine – we all do it. You might also use it to judge where you know a lot against where you need to work harder or learn more. Stay humble and you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll rise to the challenge.
  4. Procrastination versus goal setting: volunteering to share your work is hard, but it does give you a clear deadline. If you need pressure to work, find a group where their format gives you a due date. It can also give you a solid writing goal to aim for, even if you’re not ready to share right now.
  5. Markets, misinformation and myths: the most valuable thing that writers gain from a writing group is industry insight. Unfortunately, writers are often left to their own devices – or their ability to Google – to learn how publishing works, how best to submit and see through the most persistent myths and conspiracies. Writing groups that understand the business side of publishing, and go out of their way to inform and support their writers from outside the industry, are worth their weight in ink.

Lisa Goll

Lisa Goll is the founder and director of the London Writers’ Café.

You can find her on twitter @LisasShare or @LDNwriterscafe, or Instagram @londonwriterscafe.