Writing groups are often free or low-cost and are a great way to meet like-minded people and develop your skills as a writer.
For me, joining a writing group is probably one of the most important things I have done with regard to my creative writing. Whether you join a regular group, a short course or a writing retreat, the experience can be extremely valuable.
So, here are 7 reasons why I think joining a group is a good idea.
1. Writing groups often benefit you and others
The obvious point here is that you get feedback about your writing from a group and you support others by giving them feedback.
However, there are also ways to ‘give back’ as a writer and use your skills to benefit others.
When I am writing my 8-week writing courses, I usually find a good point to introduce the writers to the letter writing charity From Me to You. I can’t speak highly enough of this charity which runs free workshops that show you how to volunteer your skills by writing warm and cheery letters to cancer patients.
From Me to You then distributes these letters around the UK, giving cancer patients something to think and talk about other than their treatment. There’s also a writer-patient connection as the patients realise that this letter has been written especially for them. Find out more about my experience when I attended one of these workshops here.
2. Writing groups give you encouragement; that exciting moment when your group encourages you to publish
Recently, Claire Jaggard, one of the writers who attended my course earlier this year, contacted me to let me know that a piece she had written was being featured on BBC Radio. I was really pleased to hear this and reflected on how Claire’s experience in various different groups had led to this.
Claire attended this year’s From Me to You workshop for World Cancer Day and reported back to us in the writing group. Not only did she have a great time, but she also wrote a creative piece called ‘A Letter to Garlic’.
Towards the end of the 8-week course, we discussed how to keep motivated as a writer. Claire decided to approach her local U3A writing group who welcomed her with open arms.
At one of the U3A writing group meetings Claire submitted ‘A Letter to Garlic’ for feedback. Fellow group member, Tony Domaille, suggested she upload it to the BBC Radio programme Upload. Claire recorded her piece and sent it in to BBC Bristol’s radio presenter Adam Crowther. Adam loved it and featured it on the show.
“It was only when I joined a writing group that I learned the value of sharing words with others; the enthusiasm and insight of fellow writers is invaluable.”Claire Jaggard
You can listen to Claire talking to Adam about her experience and the extract of her reading it beautifully here. Tune in at 2h 15 on the recording.
3. Writing groups can lead to unexpected connections
To me, this is a lovely example of how one thing leads to another when we join a group of like-minded people. When Claire first joined my writing course in January, she had no idea that by May her first creative writing piece would be published on local radio.
She joined with the long-term aim of one day applying for a place on a Masters in Creative Writing. She hadn’t set any specific short-term goals and had allowed herself to discover, explore and experiment. This freedom to explore encouraged her to join workshops and groups and simply see where it led her.
That little nudge of encouragement to join a workshop, hear how other people perceive your work, to submit your piece to a publication or upload it to a radio programme can be a game changer.
“Without this group I would definitely struggle to keep writing. I find it very inspiring hearing what others have written and achieved.”Sue Pietersen is a member of the group ‘We Love Writing‘. Sue is writing a powerful memoir about her experience of bringing up her deaf son. Doctors told her he would never be able to hear anything, but Sue refused to believe them.
4. Writing groups give you ideas
A writing group is always a great source of information and ideas. Writers tend to read a lot, they visit places and they notice things. They see ideas when you are talking about your work that you may not have thought of.
While you are chatting about something that you did or saw, they ask if you are planning on writing about it! You may have never considered it as a writing project, but now it’s been mentioned, why not?
Tapping into other people’s experience and connecting ideas whilst getting feedback about your own writing can also help you to discover your identity as a writer.
5. You discover your identity as a writer
I see this happening both as a writing facilitator and as a member of my U3A group. The encouragement I get from my group, run by talented author Ali Bacon is invaluable. We give and receive encouragement that often leads to Aha! moments for the writer. As we learn from each other, the collective pool of intelligence, creativity and experience is incredibly powerful. We swap ideas, bounce our challenges around, ask for advice and write together, joining dots and making connections that lead us to make progress as writers.
Stories are shared. We are accountable, we get different perspectives and we dissipate doubts to help each other get through those moments when we are not always sure how to move forward with our writing. We have fun and look forward to our fortnightly meetings.
As writers we gain confidence, find our strengths, discover where we need to improve and explore techniques and styles.
6. Writing groups help you to stay motivated
Catherine Haken who is part of the We Love Writing group says,
“We gain inspiration and insight from others which spurs us on with our writing.”Catherine is currently writing about her life in the small town in France which, after living in various countries, she and her husband have decided to call home.
We Love Writing formed after the group members attended a collaborative workshop that Suzanne Lloyd from Red Berry Mindfulness and I ran in October 2019. After the workshop, Awaken the Writer In You, our lovely writers decided to meet up on a regular basis. At first these meetings were face-to-face over a coffee and then, during the pandemic, they moved online over a virtual coffee.
“Without this group I wouldn’t write. It’s a safe space to share and hear from others. It brings out the real me.”Carol Arnott is a poet and member of ‘We Love Writing‘.
7. You get to celebrate with others
The We Love Writing group has also gone on to to have success as writers. Judith Glover’s beautiful poem The Space Between Us was published on The Great Margin by writing incubator, Paper Nations, during lockdown, read out at the Corsham Story Town festival and consequently made into a short film reading.
“The encouragement and support are what keep me going even when I don’t write. Knowing the group is here means I have not given up.”Judith Glover
Hilary Smith, also a member of this group, was commissioned by Routledge to write her book Relationship-Based Pedagogy in Primary Schools: Learning with Love which she co-wrote with Nicki Henderson. The book is due to be published in September 2021.
“There’s a kind of magic that happens when listening and sharing our writing in the group…suddenly the loneliness and doubt and feeling not good enough falls away…and is replaced with reassurance and self-belief and feeling connected…and after all, isn’t that why we write – to connect with others?”Hilary Smith, educational writer
When one writer is successful, it’s a celebration for the whole group. We’ve watched each other develop a story, a poem or a non-fiction piece. We have watched it grow and improve and empathised with the difficult parts. We have all been there cheering from the side lines. So, when one of us gets a result, we feel like the whole team has won.
What other benefits are there?
So, here are just 7 reasons why joining a writing group is a good idea.
As a writing facilitator and a group participant, I really enjoy experiencing the power of a group setting.
I’d love to hear your reasons for joining a writing group.