Creative Humans
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Creative Humans

The Benefits and Joys of a Writing Group

The experience of a writer’s lifetime

Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

An artist once told me he was part of a secret society. He said the group gatherings were reminiscent of old-school-style salons, where artists would meet up to share ideas, entertain, and educate one another on subject matters they deemed fascinating.

The artist told me participants in his group would share their creations with one another and give feedback, and how much he enjoyed the experience. Knowing I was a writer, he encouraged me to start one of my own someday.

Little more than a year ago, I was talking with a woman I had just interviewed on the topic of creativity and healing. The story was for a magazine and it told of her journey through personal tragedy and how she had tapped into her love for painting as a way to cope with loss.

Once we were off the record, I told her how much I appreciated her perspective on creativity and healing, and how I had experienced something similar while living in South Sudan. I talked about how I had been doing some writing — to process through my experience — and how I knew there was more to be done.

After some conversation about the possibility of starting a writing group together, we each contacted a few friends, and our first meeting happened on 1 November 2017.

There were five women who showed up the first night. We drank wine and ate chips and guacamole. We shared a bit about ourselves, and what we hoped to gain from the writing group. Before we even began with our writing prompt, or readings, we experienced something sacred there in that small circle. Some of us who were strangers at the beginning of the night, felt much closer by the end.

Since that first meeting, the group has met monthly. We have welcomed new members and said goodbye to a few. We continue to do a writing prompt each meeting, and whomever feels like reading something they’ve been working on, does so. There is never any pressure, and we insist on maintaining a positive, safe space for one another. We exist to build one another up, never to tear down.

As women, this is especially sweet. We live with enough comparison, competition, and judgment in our society as it is — how fortunate when we can find ourselves united by love, encouragement, and grace.

Since we began, I have done so much growing as a human and as a writer. I’m sure there are countless benefits and joys others have found by being in a writing group. What follows are just three I have experienced in the last year.

Healing

If you join, or create, the right type of writing group, you will feel safe to be vulnerable. When you read your writings, from prompts or from stuff you’ve been working on, be prepared to experience some healing. Even if you’re writing fiction (which we all know is mostly non-fiction 😉), there is incredible power in reading your own words out loud.

I once read a piece I was working on — from a collection of letters I was writing based on my time in South Sudan — and as I read it out loud, I experienced a spectrum of emotions. I started crying at one point, had to gather myself, and then started laughing at another point. Not only that, the women in the group were crying and laughing, too. I was overjoyed by how whole the experience felt.

As people who share our writing online, there is power in having others read our words, and engage with us virtually. And sometimes those connections turn into real life friendships. But if you’ve never experienced reading your words out loud, to an intimate audience, I can’t recommend doing so more. It takes the exchange to a whole new level, and it allows you to go deeper and deeper into your writing well. It also helps you find and/or sharpen your voice.

Voice Development

As you share your writing and experience the power of reading your words out loud, you will also continue to develop and strengthen your voice. You might discover, for example, that your dry humor is a strength in writing. You might find a way to redeem your anger or your seemingly annoying eye-rolling habit. If you pay attention to these discoveries, you can begin to purposely infuse them into future writing.

A couple months ago, I started reading something I was working on, to my writing group. A few paragraphs in, all the women were laughing. One of them, who had missed a few previous meetings asked, “When did you get so funny?” I laughed and kept on reading, and afterwards I brought it back up. I repeated her question and then said, “It’s an experiment I’m trying!”

Maybe, like me, you are exploring your capacity to write with humor. Maybe you want to see if you can bring people to tears, or just make people feel more in general. Maybe you want to find out if you can convey a complex idea simply enough, or if you can expound on something that seems too simple. Maybe you want to practice incorporating all of the senses into everything you write. Having a group to read your writing to is a great way to hone your voice.

Accountability

When you’re part of a writing group that meets on a regular basis, and encourages readings, you tend to do more writing. At meetings when you don’t bring something to read, like I have done a couple times in my group, you will feel a gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) nudge in your spirit, reminding you how important it is to keep writing. Even if you find yourself in a very low-pressure situation with your group, you will still be motivated to do more, and better writing.

Depending on how deep you go with your sharing, the accountability can even extend to other aspects of your life as well. At my last writing group, I shared a sort of manifesto for something specific I want to accomplish in the future. This added a certain depth to my experience. Now when we meet, they will not only wonder how my writing is going, they may also wonder how my most sacred of dreaming is going, too! TALK ABOUT SCARY.

Accountability is the part that scares most people. This is why it’s important to get yourself in the right kind of group. Join, or create, a writing group that works best for you. If the space you share is safe, accountability won’t really be scary. In the right context, it will be welcomed and treasured.

Are you already part of a real-life writing group? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience! If not, I’d love to hear your thoughts about creating or joining one. Thanks so much for reading. All of our words are precious, and it means a great deal to me when others receive mine!

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