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The benefits of joining a writing group

Multi-genre author V. K. McGivney writes about the usefulness of the small creative writing group she coordinates in Brighton.

We are a group of six, an ideal size for the local creative writing group I have been

coordinating for nearly two years. We meet at fortnightly intervals, each of us hosting the

group on a rotational basis, in a relaxed atmosphere, with tea, coffee and biscuits always

available. We all enjoy these meetings which are social as well as work-sharing events


The format, based on a group I used to participate in, is for each of us to read a few pages of

our current writing project, followed by the reactions, comments and suggestions of other

members of the group.  Our work includes a range of genres, subjects and styles, all of which

present different challenges and problems that can be explored and discussed within the

group. The value of the process can’t be exaggerated. One member, who recently retired as a

university professor, joined us wanting to write a personal memoir. The main challenge for

him has been to free up his writing and move from an academic style to one that is more

lively and readable.  It has been a case of prompting him to eschew lecture-speak and an

academic essay format involving jargon and bullet points! The memoir is still a work in

progress, but the difference in response to group comments has been amazing. 

Another member is writing a novel based in the court of Louis 14 of France involving real

people and actual historical events. She has done exhaustive research on the period and her

concern to be as accurate as possible originally led to factual overload and a lack of focus on

the main protagonists. Additional problems were presented by the huge cast of characters and

the length and complexity of French aristocratic names, both of which would be potentially

off-putting for readers. The group has persuaded her that for greater readability, she doesn't

need to put in every single event that occurred within the novel’s time frame, and encouraged

her to reduce the number of characters in order to maintain a focus on the principal ones.

A third member is exploring a relationship between two elderly women who, in an age of

smartphones and social media, prefer to communicate by post. The letters are lively and

humorous, but her biggest challenge has been to avoid repetition of information that has

already been included in earlier missives, and to be aware of anomalies such as references to

occasional phone calls and face-to-race meetings in which much of the information included

in the letters would logically already have been shared.

My own challenge, apart from the perennial one of finding time to write to write in the first

place, is that in moving from writing three thrillers in succession to something more

philosophical, I have a tendency to overwrite, overuse adverbs, and repeat words and phrases

which I have failed to notice. It is incredibly useful to have these things pointed out before

committing something to print. 

Whenever one of us has finished a writing project, the rest of us undertake to act as beta

readers. Reading something it in its entirety is extremely valuable in terms of judging the

construction of a piece and how it works as a whole. 

 One of the most useful aspects of the group process is the discipline it imposes by obliging

us to produce a number of pages and focus on writing plans and ideas on a regular basis. This

is particularly helpful for people like myself who, without such deadlines, are all too easily

sidetracked into other activities.

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