This week, I reveal that writing circles:
- Can actually help you improve your writing
- Are very variable in tone
- Can host a range of events for writers
There are so many ways to improve your writing these days, you have to wonder why you should leave your house to go to a writing circle at all. Why can’t you just watch an online lecture, listen to a podcast or spend your time actually writing instead?
Well, those are all viable options (and not to be dismissed). But writing circles offer a lot of things you won’t get anywhere else.
Why writing circles are useful
There are several reasons why writing circles are useful for writers, whether you are a professional writer, a writer looking to be published or a writer who just loves to write for fun.
These are some of the reasons you should go check them out:
1. It’s great to talk to other writers (and there are social events)
If, like me, you haven’t come into contact with a lot of other writers, writing circles are a great place to meet them.
I found it so freeing to be able to talk about writing (even if it wasn’t specifically about my own writing) to people who understood. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t be best friends with absolutely everyone in the group, but if you’re looking for a place to openly talk about how important writing is to you, then a writing circle is the place to start.
If I got nothing else from my time in a writers’ circle, this would have been enough.
Different groups have different dynamics, which is part of the reason it’s useful to shop around until you find one you like. Some will be all business all the time, some will take their purpose seriously without being a kill-joy about it and give you time to chat, and others are social groups with a theme of writing.
Which one you prefer is entirely a matter of personal preference. The one I found the best fit for me was a two-hour evening that was fairly regulated. It started on time, people were quiet or took turns to talk, and whoever was in charge for the evening conducted the whole thing. But there was a tea break half way through which was a great opportunity to stand around and have a chat and catch up with people. And most weeks there was an open invitation for people to gather at the pub at the end of the road for a drink. I found it was a really good balance of business and social.
2. You get lots of tips and hints about the craft of writing, publishing, editing and conventions
Obviously the purpose of writing groups is for you to get better at writing, so they should be doing something to help develop your skills.
Depending on which group it is, who runs it and what kind of budget they’re working with, you’ll get guests and experts to teach you. If not, in-house expertise is called upon.
Even if it’s only the writers in the circle who are giving you advice, a lot of it is really useful. Again, be careful about this – it’s not all useful (you need to learn who to listen to and who to nod politely at and ignore).
For a lot of groups, the range of experience varies considerably from people dabbling in writing to enthusiastic amateurs, to people who have been writing for years (published or not), to independently or traditionally-published authors. That gives you the chance of talking to people who have more experience than you and most people are happy to talk about their writing journey.
I got a few good tips about which conventions to attend and which authors to read, and listened avidly to stories of success and disaster in the publishing world. Hearing people talk about their journey is a great way for you to decide which path you’re going to take and (sometimes) what not to do.
3. You get to practice your writing
There are a couple of ways writing circles get you to practice your writing.
One is to encourage you to write something during the week and then bring it along to read out for the rest of the group (more on that in just a moment). Several writers have said they only got their books written because they knew their writing group was waiting on the next instalment and didn’t want to turn up without anything.
The second way is to give you writing time during the evening. The group I like has workshop evenings where you develop a specific skill (description, dialogue, flash fiction, etc.) and part of the workshop is to learn about the skill, practice it, review it and go back and improve.
Not all groups do this, which is one of the things that you need to consider when choosing a group.
4. You get to share your writing
With most groups, sharing your work is optional. I don’t have any personal experience of a group where you have to share your work but I suppose there might be one out there.
Sharing your work (if you want to) is a great experience for writers. If you’ve not shown anyone your writing before, this is obviously nerve-wracking but it’s a useful skill to develop.
I say ‘skill’ because the art of sharing your writing has to be developed. If you have any experience of people who share their writing (in a writing circle or just in general) then you’ll probably know there’s always someone who wants to hear your praise but the second you say something negative, they tell you that you haven’t understood the themes, that you don’t appreciate their style or you didn’t read it carefully enough to spot their brilliant foreshadowing. Don’t be one of those people. I’ll do a separate post on how to share your work (and what not to do).
For the most part, writing circles are a space designed to share your work. It’s made easy for you.
In the group I go to, sharing is optional and it’s on a first-come-first-served basis for those who do want to share. If there are any left at the end of the night (it’s rare) then they get first go next time.
Also, in my group, people tend to read their own work aloud to the rest of the group but there are several people there who are happy to read your work if you want to share but get stage-fright.
One writer asked someone to read her work aloud because she wanted to listen to how he read it. It was really useful for her to hear where he paused, which words he emphasised, how the sentences flowed and where he stumbled.
The point of sharing your work is to get feedback.
It’s always nice to get positive responses from the rest of the group but it’s not going to improve your writing. The best groups are structured enough (and the people are nice enough) to make sure you get a mixture of positives and suggested improvements.
5. You learn to critique others’ work and then apply that internal editor to your own writing
This was one of the most useful skills I developed as a writer: the ability to critique others’ writing.
And the reason it was useful was because I now apply that to my own work. The better I get at that, the more polished my writing becomes.
If you can learn to listen to somebody reading a section of their work and spot the clunky sentences, you’re more likely to spot your own clunky sentences.
If you find yourself thinking their characters aren’t very well developed, when you go back to your own work, you’ll double-check to make sure yours are. You don’t want people to be thinking that about your work, after all.
Learning to spot these flaws (and I know that is a relative term) is the first step towards editing your own work and you’ll find writers, agents, editors and publishers agree that a writer who can edit their own work is highly sought-after.
6. They have guest lecturers, writers, editors and publishers
This is something your group might have.
At some point soon, I’ll tell you more about my own experiences of writers’ circles but, for now, I’ll just say that one group had all of these over the years and another group wouldn’t dream of inviting an outsider in. These variations are why it’s important to find the group that works best for you.
The circle that does have guests has a range of them and it’s been fascinating (and occasionally useful) to listen to these professionals as they talk about their area of expertise.
If you’re the sort of person who networks (and I’m unfortunately really terrible at it), then meeting all these people will be a dream come true.
If you’re not the sort of person who networks, then it’s still really great to meet them, listen to them and hear their experiences of the industry. As you listen to more and more people, you build up a picture of what the industry is like, what to expect, and you can start planning your approach (for instance, deciding whether you want to be independently published or traditionally published, or whether you want to submit to a small press or a large one).
The more people you hear talk about the various aspects of writing, the better you’ll become at it.
7. They host writing events
Again, this is something they might do.
My writers circle has hosted several events over the years and one since I joined (is that my fault? Did I kill it off?).
It was a huge event in a conference centre and there were writers from the surrounding area there to learn, talk, network, mingle, have lunch (or was that just me?) and generally soak up the camaraderie.
At the event, there were panels of writers, publishers and editors, as well as workshops on writing run by professional published writers, and short story competitions. It was great fun and I learned a lot.
Obviously, that was a big event and it was time-consuming for the writers’ circle to organise, since it was done on volunteer-power. It’s quite unusual to run an event of that size.
However, smaller events are much more common. You’ll find affiliated events at a lot of groups, such as Open Mic Nights, book launches, group tickets to conventions and trips to the pub.
Tell me about your writing group
If you’re in a writing group, let me know what you’re getting out of it! If you can think of something I’ve forgotten, leave a comment below.
You can follow me on Twitter @AlisonJanetBro1. Say hello and tell me about your writing circle.