Lessons learned from my writers group
Just Write is the name of my writing group. A handful of women that meet one Sunday afternoon a month to share their writing, provide feedback and support to each other, and discuss the writing process. We share stories, poems, plays, parts of books or novellas, and even song lyrics.
We email our monthly selections a day or two prior to the meeting. At the meeting we read our selections aloud. We discuss the piece, the process of writing the piece, and/or the ideas that prompted it. We are an informal group. If someone doesn’t have a piece they’re prepared to share that month, she can still participate.
A writing group is a great way to develop as a writer and connect with other writers. I’ve learned a number of things from Just Write.
- A piece becomes different when read aloud. This is especially true for poetry. The piece can be different again when someone other than the author reads it aloud. My final editing steps now include reading aloud to myself and listening for turns of phrase that don’t sound quite right, are missing words, or have too many words.
- What may be self-evident to the writer is not always so to the reader. Questions from the group have helped me discover where I have omitted to share key information with the reader.
- Not all readers react the same way or expect the same things. One of our members likes a lot of physical detail, another not so much. The reader brings her own perspective to a piece. Members of the group have sometimes interpreted my writing in ways I hadn’t expected. Sometimes this has been a delightful surprise. Sometimes it’s caused me to rethink my piece and shape it differently.
- Questions about the background of a story have prompted me to dig deeper into the story, resulting in changes that make it clearer, or even change direction, subtly or dramatically.
- Not only is reading and hearing other people’s writing fun, it gives me ideas about different ways I can approach my own writing.
- Learning what parts of my writing resonated with the group has helped me better understand my own strengths and style. I can better build on those strengths and grow as a writer.
- Because we also share information learned at workshops and our individual processes of writing and editing, I have a fuller toolkit of approaches and techniques. An approach that works for someone else may not work for me, but then again it might.
At a Write to Art class I took at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, instructors Debbie Schnitzer and Marjorie Anderson talked about the PS response to the writing of others. The P refers to emphasizing the positive, a word or phrase that stands out as vivid or compelling, identifying your emotional response to the piece. The S stands for suggestions for next steps or enhancements, something that could be expanded upon, something of interest not in the story yet. Our group had not known the PS response, but instinctively practiced it, and has been supportive and constructive.
As a group, we continue to learn how to provide feedback to others that helps them with their next steps without suggesting rewrites into our own styles, and how to seriously consider the feedback we receive, deciding what changes we will or won’t make to improve our work and still retain our own styles and visions.
I leave soon to spend the next four winter months in Arizona. Just Write is one of the things in my cold Manitoban home I will miss. We intend to stay in contact via email and I look forward to joining them physically again in spring.