The following is a guest post by Annette Freeman, whose story “Tennyson Gardens” appeared in Issue 16 of Typehouse.
There are writers who refuse to show their work in progress to anyone. It would affect the integrity of the idea, they may say; or perhaps they don’t want to show draft work that hasn’t been polished. Others depend on a writing group as the one certain source of support in the lonely enterprise that is writing.
On Twitter, you’ll see writers thank their beta-readers. In the acknowledgements section of published novels you’ll find thanks given to long lists of people — many of these are the early readers, the ones who saw the crummy drafts, who shared their views on the characterization, the story arc, the structure.
I love my writing group. I love it because everyone is an enthusiast for reading and writing. I love it because this particular group of people, united in their writing nerdiness, is a group that I would never otherwise know. It’s a joy and an education to know them. Our ages range across four decades, our home suburbs range across the city, our backgrounds range across the world, our skin colors, ethnicity, gender preferences and hairstyles are interestingly diverse. We even have a straight white male. What can I say, it just turned out that way.
We’re serious about our writing. We start our monthly meet-ups with some social chit-chat, maybe wine, but we have Rules. We get down to work. Up to five of us submit pieces at least two days ahead, up to 3000 words (did I mention the Rules?) Everyone present provides the author with feedback on what worked, what didn’t work, what we loved, what left us underwhelmed. Sometimes there are suggestions, such as “this should be a longer piece!” or “this should be a shorter piece!” Sometimes we come up with literary journals for possible submission, or we discuss up-coming writing contests. When several of us submit to a contest and we’re all rejected, we commiserate, discuss the winners, and talk about why ours were just as good, what was wrong with the judges?
And the most useful thing about spending one afternoon a month critiquing five pieces of draft writing by other people? Spending time thinking about why a sentence, or plot line, or descriptive passage, does or doesn’t work for me as a reader, thinking about how I’d do it: this is gold for a writer.
When one of us has a writerly win — a story that sings, a poem that brings someone to tears, publication! A contest short list! — there’s no group of people in my life who celebrate with more deep-felt joy.
Annette Freeman is a writer living in Sydney, Australia. Her short stories have appeared in a number of Australian and international journals. She has a Master of Creative Writing from the University of Sydney, and the support of a terrific writing group, emerging writers all, who provide critique and support in equal quantities. She tweets at @sendchampagne
I agree a writing group is priceless. I’m hoping the in-person group at the library resumes meeting in person SOON because of all the reasons you listed in your post. The pandemic forced me to create a group online and we met regularly. The experience uplifted us all. Now that several of us are back to work, our schedules don’t align anymore and I feel like I’m languishing.