The Powerful Effects of a Good Writing Group

Being a writer is tricky business. It’s a strange talent that requires complete submergence in order to have any lasting benefits. If you want to become a professional writer, you pretty much have to slave for over 40 hours a week, without getting paid; writing, editing, nitpicking, stressing, and freaking out over your work just to produce something that might appeal to a publisher, studio, newspaper, or whatever person with money that will make your words readable to the right people.

If you just want to be a decent writer in general, you can look to the millions of quotes from authors that basically tell you to write often, write every day, write, write, write. Good writing comes with writing. Period. Case closed. Practice makes perfect. Writing every day is the only way you’ll get really good.

That is easier said than done.

I started my blog simply as a way to write more and put a voice to ideas and personal opinions I could never plant into my fiction. Writer’s block is a hell of a thing. It’s a crippling thing. So I figured if I couldn’t write fiction and create stories, I could frequently write blog posts just to keep my hands on the keyboard and my mind molding sentences. And still, I don’t write every day. Sometimes I don’t write all week. Yikes.

A little less than a year ago, during the 2011 fall semester, I took a creative writing class that changed my life. I’ve documented my thoughts on the first class in another blog post and continued to discuss the powerful lessons I learned from the professor in a post about heart break. It’s safe to say that class changed my life. And that’s really saying something considering I’ve actively been pursuing my dream of being a writer since I was about thirteen. So that’s almost ten years of trying and writing a lot. Still, that class gave me a new look on writing and what it takes to write something meaningful. I have found a joy in writing poetry since the class which was always something that bored me, confused me, and smothered me in previous years. But now I’ve come to find that to really write in the “deep water” often means bearing my soul. And I think that soul bearing is a format best suited for poetry.

Here I go on another tangent. These blog posts, Jesus do they tend to go off topic quickly. Let’s back track, this is a post about writing groups and how they help motivate me to write. Now I’m talking about my awesome creative writing class, which is good back story, but let’s get back on track.

In this creative writing class I managed to write some really good short stories and even a half decent poem towards the end of class. But most importantly I got amazing feedback not only from the professor but my classroom full of peers, many of whom were actively trying to be writers themselves. It was a great environment, slightly competitive but not in any negative sense. It was more that we didn’t want to come to class unprepared or clutching a crappy story since we knew we’d have to read aloud often. This made me write good pieces on a very consistent, weekly basis.

So when the semester came to an end I was nervous about where I’d go as a writer. I learned some tools but would they just grow a coat of dust sitting in the tool shed that is my thought process? I was relieved when on the last day of class; two students mentioned getting a writing group together once a month after the semester so we could keep working. I signed my name boldly, the John Hancock of the group I hope.

So since then, myself and three of the best writers in the class (and in the entire school in my opinion) have been meeting in a secret, intimate, little writing group on campus and providing each other with very useful criticism and motivation to keep writing. I cherish that one day a month and have grown close with the other writers.

There are two female poets, one male poet/fiction writer, and me who alternates between presenting short screenplays, short stories, and as of yesterday, poems. There’s a great mix of style, substance, and format being passed around each meeting.

Recently, I’ve been assisting a best friend with some of the challenges of being an early-twenties college graduate with no immediate job future in the field he wants to pursue. But he mentioned something that I thought provided him with all of the hope in the world: he said he wanted to start writing.

I jumped on the thought and told him what every author on earth tells new writers: write, write, write. “A writer writes. Always.” That’s a quote from the film Throw Momma From The Train with Billy Crystal and Danny DeVito. But yes, it’s accurate. Write!

He’d been writing poetry to keep his emotions in line but was weary of their merit. I told him there isn’t a lot of bad writing if it’s honest writing. And just as I suspected, it was pretty good stuff. I gave him my comments and then finally mentioned he should take the jump and come to the writing group with me.

My friend was hesitant but finally agreed and I was pleased to see how much he enjoyed himself and walked away with valid critiques and motivation to continue writing. I’m excited to see where this motivation takes his work.

Yesterday’s writing group was something else. It went on for hours and hours because we took a month off and all had so much enthusiasm to present the several works we all brought with us. It was a wonderful session. We read multiple works. We passed around some of our most valid and useable criticism. And I left in awe of some of the writings that my group came in with. I make no mistake in saying that I believe in every one of them to reach success with their work if they continue cranking out stuff of that caliber.

So we disbanded from group just short of midnight and had to unlock and force open one of the automatic sliding doors that was bolted shut with us still inside the campus. We practically floated back to our cars in the vast, empty, chilly parking lot, hollering to one another that “it was great to see you” and “I can’t wait for next month!”

And I noted that familiar surge of energy and excitement sprinting through my veins and bouncing about my stomach that I get while going practically light headed with enthusiasm in a discussion over writing or filming. By the time I got in my car I had a headache from the rush. My voice was scratchy and I felt exhausted although I knew I’d never sleep. I agreed to meet up with my friend for a drink because I still wanted to talk more and gauge how he felt about the group.

I believe we all left that particular meeting with a heightened level of enthusiasm to continue writing. Not in general, since any writer could probably never really give up writing altogether. But I think we were ready to write liberally. We had more ideas now. We’d gone to the fountain and replenished our imaginations with each other’s stories and enthusiasm. Now it’s just a matter of sitting down and writing.

So that’s what I’m doing. I wish it wasn’t a blog post but something in one of my many opened projects. But it’s a start. And after all, you’ll never know what you’ll get until you sit down and write it.


2 thoughts on “The Powerful Effects of a Good Writing Group”

  1. Hey, madhaus7, I absolutely agree with you and the motto to write, write and write. I think a blog is a great place to share your ideas with many of your friends and tons of people you’ve never met so as to give them a sense of your thought process. A disappointing thing I found out this week, which totally threw me for a loop, is that much of what I’ve posted on my blog I can’t send to magazines or journals because it’s considered “previously published.” I won’t lie to you: it was such a major blow I didn’t think I’d be able to write again (I had several nightmares about it). But I woke up the next day, read more poetry, and new poems just started pouring out again, one after the other. I said to myself, The best is yet to come! And so I hope the same for you. 🙂

    1. Yikes, that is scary. That’s always been a fear for me as well. I’ve restricted what I publish to things that I feel can only be voiced with this medium. However, I’ve heard of many blog writers compiling their posts and self publishing books that are collections of their posts. They advertise right on their blogs! That could be something to think about. But certainly, anything you’d like to publish, be selective and keep it from the blog for now. And of course, write, write, write! Thanks for reading.

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