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How to Find a Good Writing Group

Posted on May 29, 2007 by

First—-a good writing group is hard to find. Even a good group of two. It is harder to find than a good grocery store, or a good bakery, and probably harder than finding a good yoga class. Finding a good writing group is probably more on a par with finding a great job—or the right house. Now and then a fabulous house or job lands in your lap. But more often this is the kind of thing you have to prepare for, and search for, and be willing to invest some time in.

How to prepare?

A few words of advice (to be used as you wish):
If and when you feel like a writing group is something you’d like to explore, and, assuming the fabulous writing group or workshop has not already landed in your lap, I’d recommend reading Peter Elbow’s Writing without Teachers and/or Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and with Others. The two books complement each other well. Elbow’s book is the older of the two. It was first published in 1973 and is a classic in the field of teaching writing. Two chapters—“The Teacherless Writing Class,” and “Thoughts on the Teacherless Writing Class”—are good preparation for both recognizing a good writing group when you come across one, or, perhaps, starting a new one of your own. Elbow’s emphasis is on the importance of getting honest authentic feedback from readers—and how this process of feedback can grow one’s writing.

Schneider’s book, published in 2003, is the newer book. It’s a longer book than Elbow’s, chattier, with more stories and examples drawn from her classes. One of its particular strengths is in its advice on how to recognize and help create a healthy workshop.

And Ms. Schneider offers this advice [p. 199] on recognizing a good writing class:

After being with your teacher, do you feel more like writing or less like writing? You should never be made to feel embarrassment or shame in the classroom. If that happens, there is something wrong with the way writing is being taught. Drop the class. Take auto mechanics or geometry! Then write about fixing cars, or about the perfect problem.

It’s the right question I think: After being with your teacher do you feel more like writing or less like writing?

It’s the kind of question one could ask about a writing teacher or a writing class or a writing group or perhaps anything that one seeks out in order to foster one’s writing.

After being with __________, do you feel more like writing or less like writing?