Writing groups -to be cherished

I am a writer who has a hard time sharing their work. Well, really isn’t that most writers? We always know there is something else that needs to be worked on. So a writers group is a hard community to begin working with.

I have tried several groups and although they are helpful there is something that just doesn’t work for me. I am not sure what it really is but the one word that keeps popping into my head is safe. The need for that safe space to share and explore where I could make my work stronger.

I have worked in three or four writer’s groups. The people in the groups have all been very nice, good writers and understanding people. So where does this issue of safety come into play?

It is about relationships. The building of relationships that create trust and a common way of working. One group I joined a few years back was an online group. Great people but because we were long distance we found ourselves jumping into the editing process quickly and my insecurities about writing were running really high. I just couldn’t relax and send my work out in the internet waiting for comments. (Funny, it is what I do with my blog and I am fine with it but my fiction writing is another animal all together. I find it very difficult to send out a draft.)

I moved from my online experience to a two person writing group imgresin person. I had known this person professionally for a long time. A great person and we have always gotten along through grants, teaching students and other events. But now with personal fiction writing between us something was missing. We were both nervous, a bit jumpy about the process. We laid out the ground work, the how to of working together. Still it was just not working. I wonder if time would ease both of our fears? Not surprising we both got busy and have not met again.

Then there was that October day – sunny and much warmer than it should be for late October. Sitting on my back deck were two people who I had met some 10 years or more ago when taking the summer workshop for the Minnesota Writing Project.

These two woman were and are a great deal younger than I. We all teach in very different areas but still teachers. We write for different reasons but still write. We were put together by someone who did not really know any of us. They were just creating diverse groups of writers to work together over the summers three-week workshop.

In this workshop we worked with lots of teachers, we wrote in large groups, in small groups and alone. We learned about the importance of a writing group and then we began meeting in our small writer’s groups. We walked the campus, eat lunch, and shared our writing. We shared our teaching lessons about writing and our reasons for writing. We each worked on one final piece of writing we would share at the end of the three weeks to the larger group.

This was to be the end – end of workshop, end of group. A few groups might go on to continue to work but most groups moved on to work with colleagues in their schools or maybe just to write alone again. Our little group was different. We continued to meet for a while. We Skyped when one person moved to Europe for awhile and returned. Then another one moved to California for many years. Our shared writing group stopped but we loosely kept in contact over Facebook.

This last summer we realized that three of us were all living back in Minneapolis so we met to say hi and check in with each others lives, jobs and writing. My two young friends now have children of their own, one has moved to teaching Math from teaching English. The other has moved from teaching ELL to teaching at the University in a Leadership program. I have retired from teaching all together, my children are grown and launched. So for me writing is taking on a new dimension as time opens up before me.

We chatted, shared lunch and then someone said – would you like to be a writing group again. We all jumped at the chance and so there we were in the October sun with bagels, yogurt, fruit and writing between us.

We fell into our old ways of working without a blink. One person checked time making sure we each had time to share, one person had print copies if we didn’t want to read from on line. One person was ready to share first. We had read each others documents through google docs. before we met.

We each read our piece aloud and gave the context for our writing. We asked for feed back in specific areas we were working on. We laughed, shared what we loved and the words and phrases that really resonated with us. We asked questions and gave suggestions.

We were at home with each other. This was a place I had not been since we last worked as a group some 10 years before. The safe place of sharing deep thoughts, writing and laying yourself open to be able to hear and improve what we have written.

It could have been that we just were an unusual group but as I look at who we are  – we are very different people in many ways. I think is comes down to the Minnesota Writing Project and the careful steps that they shared with us. They offered the steps to creating a community of writers and friends.

  • working together on a project
  • relaxing and enjoying each other
  • sharing the work that is important to us
  • developing a structure within the group that assures all are heard
  • using a structure to give feedback that all agree on –
    • share the work both before and during
    • give positive feedback,
    • ask questions instead of saying change this or that,
  • working with an open mind and heart

What more can I say – when you find a writing group it is a magical thing. Hold on to it, cherish it and nourish it for they are hard to come by.

Thanks Minnesota Writing Project and thanks to my reformed writers group from long ago! I cherish our time together – it makes me a stronger writer and person.IMG_2494

(We miss you Rita!  We hope you are writing up there in the wild blue yonder. We are thinking of you!)

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About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, help in schools and write. Life is good!
This entry was posted in Reflection, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Writing groups -to be cherished

  1. What a blessing it is for you to have these women in your life!

    You’re right. It is about relationships. That’s is what makes sharing and getting feedback so much easier.

  2. Lisa Keeler says:

    Wow- what a gift. As you write about critical elements I find myself thinking about how these matter in a classroom writing workshop too. And yes- it is about so much more than editing.

  3. murielt2013 says:

    Fantastic sharing — thank you so much, Joanne!

  4. agurney2015 says:

    Your writing group journey is so valuable to your skills as a writer as well as to the growth of the writing. Both of these ideas show clearly in your writing. I appreciate you sharing.

  5. Linda Baie says:

    It’s a sweet description of what works, and although you have that list, it still seems that somehow chemistry plays into it, too. I started a group at school a few years ago, and it worked well for about two years, but the main parts of bringing writing that you really wanted feedback on started to fade with some. A few would show up, but not have anything to share, and that was awkward. We are now about four who really cherish our time, and don’t miss writing for each other. Thanks for such a thoughtful post.

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