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The Value of a Writers’ Group

Many years ago, someone suggested that I find a writers’ group. I cringed at the idea. The thought of sharing my work with others, let alone getting an actual critique, unleashed a mild panic. I put the suggestion in the back of my mind (the way back) and continued writing and submitting and accumulating rejections. I pursued my degree in writing and shared my work with teachers and professors because, hey, that’s their job. They’re supposed to critique my work. I had yet to realize that the best teachers are not the folks standing at the front of the classroom making money for what they do. The best teachers are the writers like ourselves, who sit down at their desks everyday, putting the best they can on a piece of paper or a computer screen. They hope and dream, deal with defeat and then get up the next day and do it again.

After graduating, I continued my writing ritual of submission and rejection. It was a lonely process and I considered contacting one of my professors to see if they’d work with me. Instead, I remembered the suggestion I’d gotten a few years back and dared peruse the back page of a newsletter from a local writing organization. There was a list of writing groups and one close to home that was advertising for a new member. Ignoring my sweaty hands and pounding heart, I submitted a few chapters of the novel I was working on for their review and waited to see if I would be “the fit” they were looking for. An email a couple of days later asked me to come the following week and bring some work to share. Joining that group was the best thing I ever did to further myself as a writer.

Is it hard to walk into a room of people and hand over the pages you’ve been pouring yourself into? Absolutely. It’s right up there with laying down your heart in the middle of the floor and hoping it doesn’t get stepped on or standing naked in a busy intersection. It’s as vulnerable as I’ve ever felt.

As writers, most of us are introverts. For me, it’s a lot easier to put my voice on the page than to speak up in a room full of people. But no one becomes better at what they do without feedback, not the athlete or the chef, or the parent, or the teacher. We need each other and writers are no exception. Even though I savor the solitude of writing, I have also learned to savor the advice, suggestions and critiques of people I trust and those who know more than I do. (Which as it turns out, are quite a few.)

The friendship and intimacy that I’ve found within my writers group has been invaluable in my growth as a writer. Things are pointed out within my work that I would never have seen myself. Do I feel defensive when I’m being critiqued? Sure, but I get over it pretty fast because once I allow myself to really listen, I often realize they’re right. It’s a little like having someone tell you that you should cut your hair a different way or not wear a certain color. At first you’re defensive, but later, when you look in the mirror, you realize they’re right. Critiques aren’t cruel they’re immensely helpful. The tough part is getting over our own defenses so that we can hear them. That’s where an intimate, trusted writing group comes in. The writers in my group support me in taking my craft seriously, but their humor and friendship insure that I don’t take myself seriously. And that little lesson makes all the difference.



Patricia Hale is a graduate of the MFA program at Goddard College in Vermont. She is a member of Sister’s in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, NH Writer’s Project and Maine Writer’s and Publisher’s Alliance. Her essays and articles have appeared in New England literary magazines and the anthology, My Heart’s First Steps. When not writing, she enjoys hiking with her dogs and kayaking on the lakes near her home. Patricia lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two German shepherds. www.patriciahale.org



 
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2 comments:

  1. That was quite an interesting post. Really enjoyed it. Thank you for sharing.

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  2. I have been a part of a writers' group for quite a few years now. I too have found the support of the group invaluable, though our group is a writing exercise group (We write to prompts for 40 minutes) not a critique group.

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