The Writing Group Contract

I have been meeting with two other writers every month for just over a year. Writing courses can forge relationships that feel significant for the participants; together writers hear the work of others, struggle with them to help them improve their work, encourage them, want to know more about the progress of writers with whom they have formed a bond. Not surprising then that at the end of every writing course someone says, ‘let’s stay in touch’. And someone else says ‘let’s meet again’.

Lynda, Katerina and I got together after a writing course at City Lit. Occasionally another participant joins us, but we three are the core of the group. Our normal practice is similar to other groups’ no doubt: one person emails about 2000 words on which they are working to the others. We give feedback on this. We also find time to talk about aspects of writing, where we are, what we do about this problem or what we find useful about some practice or other. And we recommend useful activities and books.

47 Wr group

On the last occasion we met we included a very tasty supper, discussed a scene from Lynda’s novel, and I asked Lynda and Katerina to answer these three questions:

  • What do you want from a writing group?
  • Can you give some examples of what the writing group has helped you with?
  • Any advice for writers?

Perhaps like me you assume you know why people belong to writing groups, but I decided it was time to check out my friends’ reasons and to write about it on the blog. Here are their answers.


What do you want from a writing group?

K: When I write I appreciate feedback and want to be involved with like-minded people. It’s my connection to writing, as a part-time writer I need it. And nice people.

L: I want feedback. I love being forced to be brave and give things to people to read. Doing that with clever, sympathetic and reflective people – that really helps. I like being in the situation where I can talk about writing without being self-conscious.

K: Me too. I don’t have people to talk about writing with. Do you?

L: Yes. And no. This is what’s special. I do have friends and family members who want to read my writing, but I don’t want them to in the early stages.  I want to wait until I’m fairly happy with what I’ve done. It’s super with people who are contracting to read early drafts and be honest about them.

I worry about family and friends not being honest. And if they were honest and didn’t like what I showed them, I’d be upset – at least until I was confident about it myself.

K: Yes, it’s frustrating to give someone a piece and they just give it back and say ‘nice’. I don’t want ‘nice’. Friends and family can’t give you constructive criticism.

In the group we’re all going through our own stuff, and reading other people’s and you can bring in where you are with your stuff, your problems,

Can you give some examples of what the writing group has helped you with?

K: It made me look at planning my novel – that time we looked at a timeline and chart and I went away and did something similar for mine. It was in my head but it was nice to get it down.

L Practical, detailed comment from people who read your writing carefully.

K: It’s nice to know what does and doesn’t work, whether the reader gets a particular message. Or if they haven’t got the point.

L: It’s useful knowing how other people are reading what you are writing, especially early on.

K: Different readers see different things.

L: I am very unselfconscious when I write, it just comes out. There are the inevitable contradictions, confusions and other people can point these out.

Any advice for writers?

L: Oooooh it’s so presumptuous to give advice. But how about: write first as if nobody is going to read it. Get it all out.

K: Believe in yourself, even through the bad bits.

L: Write through the doubts.

K: That’s good. You should enjoy it.

L: Say to yourself – be strong. Isosh as they say in Ethiopia.


So if you belong to a writing group what do you get out of it? What are your experiences?


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2 Responses to The Writing Group Contract

  1. I’ve been a member of my present writing group for just over a year but I belonged to the previous one – in Edinburgh – for about 15 years. I am also a member of a very good online writing group.

    Writing groups taught me to be less precious about my work, to get over any fears of reading out in public/offering my work for criticism. I also learned that, while the constructive comments of others can be extremely helpful, they can also be wrong. I soon developed a gut feeling for which suggestions were spot on and which I should perhaps ignore.

    Discovering that a piece of work can have numerous interpretations and produce such varied responses is a valuable eye-opener. Attending a writing group allowed me to see that it’s impossible to please everyone and that a writer must develop the ability to know at a deep level which changes are right for their work and which aren’t. Sometimes, of course, it’s necessary to ponder over the comments for a good while before deciding one way or the other – something dismissed early on may prove perspicacious on reflection.

  2. Caroline

    Thank you for telling us about your experiences. This fits my experiences too, especially the bit about not taking everything everybody says as right. But I so agree that it’s worth pndering what people say before dismissing it. I hope your current groups work out as useful as the Edinburgh one did.
    Please visit the bookword blog again. Comments are always welcome.

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