Monday 22 April 2013

Writing Groups - In Their Diversity and Wonderfulness!

The other night, I and a Twitter friend, Jo Carroll, were talking about writing groups, and came up with the idea of doing a dual blog post about the groups we're involved with. First, here's Jo:

This post has grown out of a twitter-chat: we were wittering about our groups and it was clear that we both value them, but they are organised differently. 

Which got me wondering whether it's the structure of a group that matters, or the fact that it is an opportunity to work collectively with people we trust. 

I go to a group that used to call itself a Life Writing Group. It is organised by a woman who also teaches with the OU; she brings and exercise or two, gives us homework, and generally keeps us in order. A year or so ago we spent a lot of time talking about memory and how to reframe that into something literate. We laughed (and wept a little) and wrote some wonderful pieces.

We've grown, over the year. While the structure of the group is the same, and some of us are still working almost entirely on memoir, others have branched out into fiction - both short stories and novels - and others into poetry. We've been submitting work all over the place, and even the sniff of success is celebrated with cake.

It is the writing highlight of my week (yes, every week, during term time.)

I, meanwhile, have a very different experience. As well as being an author, I have a day job in a library, where I’ve been supporting and coordinating an adult writing group for around 3 years now. The group started out as a wellbeing group, run by another writer, and I took it over when her sessions finished.

We meet monthly, and there is a wide range of ages and interests. So often, people don’t have a space in their lives where they can be creative, so this group aims to give them that. Our main focus is on having fun and trying out new things. The sessions usually consist of short exercises which members can interpret however they want, but there is no pressure to take part if a particular exercise doesn’t inspire, and you don’t have to share your work if you don’t want to.

Alongside the adult group, I run a group for 9-14 year-olds which has been going for around a year now. It follows basically the same format as the adult group, and it’s amazing how well many of the exercises we do suit both groups! And of course, we always have chocolate – it’s essential writing fuel!

What about you? Are you in a writing group? How does it work, and what do you do? Tell us in the comments below!


  1. Thank you for the opportunity to do this, Emma - more evidence of the joys of co-working, just in case we ever doubted it!

    1. You're welcome, Jo! It was good fun to do!

  2. I've never been involved with a writing group but I like the sound of it. Writing, cake and chocolate? The only things missing from that are beer and coffee and then you'll have covered every important food group!

    1. Oh, there's coffee. No beer, though. Being drunk in charge of a writing group is probably an arrestable offence…

  3. I have been to a few writing groups over the years but I have to admit I've never enjoyed them, and when I did A215 with the OU I only went to one of the tutorials and I found that one quite excruciating.

    I hate reading my stuff out, and if someone produces a 'prompt' my mind freezes instantly. I am fine with posting my writing on the internet (eg I was one of the more active members of my OU on-line group) but having to read it out - even having to be physically present whilst it is read out - makes me feel sick. I know people always say 'oh you just haven't found the right group' or 'it's good for you' (how many times were we told that at school? And was it?!) but I have come to the conclusion that I'm just not up to putting myself through it.

    I have a daughter who is very similar - a friend recently read an article about socially phobic teenagers and apparently it said that parents should make their teens face up to their fears - but that's easier said than done when you are dealing with a near-hysterical 14 year old (and can only too easily identify with her feelings.) I should add that I also have two older children who are not remotely bothered about standing up in front of people - one is a singer and the other regularly gives talks as part of his job.

    The most recent group that I had a look at (had a handy opportunity as they had a prize-giving at which the winners read their stuff) seemed to have very entrenched members who all knew each other very well - I think it would have been hard to break into that. I've also found that with some book groups - another thing that I don't enjoy, though that is not because I'm afraid of them - I just don't like having books that I HAVE to read.

    So no, writing groups are not for me! But I know lots of people really enjoy them, and I think that if you do, they must be a great way to kick-start (and to persevere with) your writing. And no, I'm not totally anti-social - and I did meet some great people on my OU course with whom I still meet up, so it wasn't all bad!


    1. Thank you for your comment, Rosemary. You're absolutely right – writing groups aren't for everyone, and until I took over mine, I hadn't had such great experiences either. You definitely *shouldn't* join a group if you don't want to, and don't enjoy it – as you say, there are other avenues for sharing and getting feedback on your work, which are just as valid.

      And I'm not part of any book groups for that exact same reason! :)

  4. As a member of Emma's writing group I agree that the emphasis is very much on fun. I look forward to our monthly sessions, and it's surprising what ideas spring from random writing prompts. I came across a novelty teapot named Patch at our last meeting. If you don't want to read your work out there's no pressure. New members are always welcome, and yes Dan, I can confirm that we have chocolate biscuits and tea or coffee at every meeting. In fact Emma insists on it!

  5. I really need to comment but I will anyway! :P Why? Because I am one if the members of Emma's adult writing class. I have been going for quite a few years now and live the uniqueness each class is. I only wish it continues forever and ever! :) xxx