“What you are doing is brave. Whether the writing is autobiographical or entirely imagined is irrelevant. To write is to reveal your mind at work. There is no nakedness like that nakedness. To write takes courage. You are a brave person just to attempt it.” —Pat Schneider, Amherst Writers & Artists founder
If you want to write, have tried to write but feel disheartened, or have written only to have your work questioned or come back to you bleeding red marks, then read on.
Being criticized, corrected, questioned, or “told” how to write can (and most likely has) shut us down. We writers, even the most experienced, successful ones, are somewhat fragile. Most of us encounter self-doubt at least every other time we sit down to write. It just comes with the job.
Much writing happens in solitude—the writer alone with their ideas, thoughts, imaginings—as it has been for millennia. In this era we’ve recognized a fresh new way of setting down words that can take us to surprising places: writing together.
Here are 5 reasons you should join a writing group to improve and revitalize your craft.
1. You Receive Motivation To Write
My writing had been suspended for a number of years while I ran my business and raised a family, but twelve or so years ago the call to return to the page had become urgent.
When I sat down at my computer, however, I found that I’d lost my confidence, my creative voice having been silent for so long.
I attended a day-long immersion in prompted generative writing with a group of about eight others. When the freshly written work was read aloud, the feedback was restricted to commentary on what the others found strong—an image or a phrase that stood out, or the use of a device that worked to convey a particular emotion.No criticism, no suggestions, no discussion on the nature of the content.
I was stunned and elated. What that first experience gave me was the genuine sense that I could, in fact, write. It was possible that what I wrote had some merit. And it got me writing. And writing. And writing. The more supportive workshops I attended, the more I learned.
2. You Are Inspired To Take Creative Risks
Some may argue that if we don’t know what’snot working then we’ll go on blundering through making the same prosaic or cliched mistakes.
In supportive writing workshops, with a prompt and the assurance that only the strengths in a piece of freshly generated writing will be noted, the writer feels safe to take creative risks and to set down topics or forms they might have shied away from.
A skilled facilitator offers a diving board from which to leap, and stays steady at the water’s edge to ensure the writer’s safety. Often in such a setting, an undiscovered or dormant corner of the imagination lights up.
3. You Gain A Fresh Perspective On Your Writing
After a bit of hand-wringing and apologizing that what they’ve just written isn’t finished or possibly any good, a writer will read.
Reading aloud, they hear their work differently, often surprising themselves.
And then the real magic happens. A hand goes up and a listener remarks on the skillful use of dialogue; another hand goes up to comment on a stunning image or the cinematic quality of the piece; then another on how deftly a deep emotion was shown by sensory detail.
The writer looks down at their piece with new eyes.
Of course the piece wasn’t finished—they’d just written spontaneously for fifteen or twenty minutes—no one (well, almost no one) produces a finished piece in the first flush. However, when the strengths have been identified, a couple of things happen.
The first is the reassurance that their writing has value, and the second is the organic process of developing craft through simply hearing which aspects were successful.
One is given a window into their own abilities that if alone, they might not be able to recognize.
All this without harm to the writer’s self-esteem. By the same token, when one listens deeply to others’ work, listening for what is strong, powerful, moving, and how those elements are accomplished, this feeds directly into one’s own work.
It just does, trust me.
Maureen Buchanen-Jones wrote an in-depth article on the practice of deep listening. You can read it here.
Many who write for a living—business writers, for example, long to write something more meaningful, something to answer their creative hearts. I’ve heard many academics confess frustration in regards to their particular constraints.
A writing workshop led with a supportive and open format can be just the ticket to discover and explore their own true voice.
5. You Receive Support From A Like-Minded Community
For more seasoned creative writers, these workshops provide support, accountability, inspiration, and camaraderie.
Writing with purpose is a long, lonely road and it’s comforting to have like-minded individuals sharing the journey.
Personally, I favour workshops that are open-themed, where the prompts, whether they be poems, images, objects, or an idea, can be taken in any direction the writer chooses.
In other words, where each participant is free to write in any style on any topic they choose—the idea being the prompt is offered simply to open the path from mind to hand to page.
I’ve written essays, short stories, poems, three novels, and a full-length memoir—almost all of them had their start in generative writing workshops delivered in the AWA (Amherst Writers & Artists) method of workshop facilitation. Without that kind of support and encouragement I’m not certain I could have accomplished that.
The road to publication is a long, often debilitating process. When we write in a protective environment, we can set aside that goal, the end product, and freefall into whatever comes up, as one of my mentors, Barbara Turner-Vesselago urges.
For many, editing will follow, lots of it. If publication is the goal, that’s the nature of the writing beast. Not everything we write in workshops is gold, but there are always nuggets, and those nuggets can form the basis and springboards for finished pieces.
“Whether your purpose for writing is artistic expression, communication with friends and family, the healing of the inner life, or achieving public recognition for your art – the foundation is the same: the claiming of yourself as an artist/writer and the strengthening of your writing voice through practice, study, and helpful response from other writers.” - Pat Schneider, Writing Alone and with Others(2003)
About The Author
A graduate of the Humber School for Writers, Susan is certified in the Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA) method of writing workshop facilitation. Since 2014, she has been leading writing workshops and retreats in Canada, internationally, and most recently, virtually. The past president and speaker coordinator for the Simcoe County Writers (WCSC), Susan is a member of the WCYR (Writers Community of York Region), MAA (Muskoka Authors Association), and WFWA (Women’s Fiction Writers Association) and professional member of the Canadian Authors’ Association (CAA).
Winner of The Writers’ Union of Canada’s 2016 short prose contest, Susan Wadds’ short fiction and poetry have been featured in literary journals and anthologies, including The Blood Pudding, Room and carte blanche magazines. The first two chapters of her forthcoming novel, What the Living Do, won Lazuli Literary Group’s writing contest, and was published in Azure’s winter 2017 issue.