Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Writing Groups

Are you a member of a writing group? Should you be? I wrote for years on my own before I joined a group, and that one formed by accident. I teach at a small New Orleans university, and some time around 1989 we had a faculty retreat where one exercise involved forming small groups to talk about academic writing. By chance, two members of my group wanted to write fiction, myself and a woman from English. A short time later, another English Prof--David Lanoue--joined us, and we three constituted the core of a group that met pretty much every week for the next decade. In fact, David and I still meet on occasion; he’s “Haiku Guy,” from my links.

That first group was a critique group. We shared and criticized each other’s stories, and I believe this really aided me early in my career. The criticism itself helped, because other members often caught mistakes that I was too close to the work to see. But the group also helped by giving me deadlines to meet. The others didn’t make me write, but I wanted to have something to share when it was my turn, and so I wrote until writing became a habit. And this may have been the most important role of that group.

I’m in a very different group today. There aren’t any critiques, but I get support when I’m struggling and I have a sounding board for ideas. The members come to my signings and they’ve turned me on to speaking engagements and other opportunities. This blog is a result of conversations that begin in that group. I don’t believe a writer has to join a group to write. But I do believe that my groups have enriched my own writing life and have aided in my career. Thanks David, Michelle, Trecie, Randy, Mark, Du Bois, Elora, Steve, Emily, Laura, Candice, Candy, Veleka, and Randy 2. You’re the good guys.


Verina Walker said...

I've never been in a writer's group before but I understand how one might serve as a huge positive in my writing career, especially after I shared my work with you Dr. Gramlich. I don't always have someone to critique my work with a discerning eye. I don't feel comfortable sharing my writing with my closest friends because I fear that they will not take my writing seriously and even attempt to provide me with the truthful criticism I need to become a great writer. I have shared my writing with them before and their first response is to tell me that it is good. It would be nice to have the forum to share my half baked pieces with a group of people who are writers themselves.

Charles Gramlich said...

Verina, it might be harder as a student to find those with interests in writing, although I'm sure they exist. I've found that the English Department of most schools seems to be the center around which most writers revolve. You might try checking with faculty members in that department to see if they know of other students who want to write. Taking a creative writing class might put you into direct contact with those students. Then you have to put yourself forward a bit to talk to others about a writing group. I know that putting ourselves forward is hard for us writers, but others in the class are probably feeling the same insecurities you are. Good luck and let me know if I can help.

Sphinx Ink said...

Thanks for the thanks, Charles. And I thank YOU, because you're a big part of what makes our weekly group so terrific. To meet nearly every Monday night for five years, missing only when absolutely necessary, shows how much all of us get out of tossing ideas around with each other.