Getting the most from writers’ groups

I’ve been in a writers’ group for over six years now, and the process of getting regular feedback has been transformative for my writing.

Whether you’re thinking about joining a writers’ group (do it!) or you’re in one already but think it could be more effective, here are my tips on getting the most out of the experience.

Find the right group for you
All writers’ groups are different, so it depends on what you’re looking for. The first one I tried focused on generating material in their sessions, then reading aloud and giving light verbal feedback. I think the most important thing you can get from a writers’ group is robust, in-depth feedback, but it depends what stage of the process you’re at. Don’t be afraid to try a few different groups before settling on one. Or form your own.

Exchange excerpts in advance
My group focusses on feedback, and our monthly meetings work like this: approximately one week before each meeting, we email our excerpt around, so we can all read them in advance. To me, this is essential. For one thing, it means I have time to re-read and think deeply about the excerpts. It also means I can make as many comments as I feel necessary, on what works as well as areas I think need improvement. This is a time commitment – everyone in my group sends up to 6000 words each month – but it’s worth it for the quality of feedback.

With one of my two writers’ groups

Set the rules
When my group gives feedback, we follow a set of rules: if my excerpt is being discussed, everyone takes turns giving me their main points of feedback – they may have written more comments for me, but verbally they only raise their key points. As the feedback recipient, I can’t talk until everyone is done – I can’t explain what a certain paragraph meant, or tell the reader why they misunderstood. I shut up and take notes until everyone is done, then I have five minutes to ask questions. This helps to keep the meeting moving along. This also gives the writer a chance to absorb the feedback and think about why the person might have interpreted the excerpt in a particular way.

Another rule we stick to is restricting the group to five members. Three is too few, and six means we don’t have enough time in our meetings to fully discuss each piece.

Finesse your feedback
Great feedback focuses on your experience as a reader, while drawing on your expertise as a writer. Note what works well, what captivates your attention, where you feel the tension building, and your emotional investment in the scene. Note also where you’re jolted out of the scene, where the description drags, where you’re confused or uncertain. This can be most helpful when it comes to the balance of showing and telling. Are the details showing what the writer thinks they are? Your own writing skills will improve as you develop your ability to pinpoint what works in others’ writing, no matter the genre.

Find your writers’ group
State and local writers’ centres are a good place to find a group. Writing NSW hosts over 30 groups and lists more around the state, some of which are open to new members. Early each year, they also host a Writers’ Group Open Night, which is a chance to learn about the various groups, meet their members, and discuss.

If you can’t access an in-person group, you might try joining an online writers’ group. One way to do this is to take an online writing course, and connect with others looking for ongoing peer support and feedback. In Writing NSW’s online writing courses, online groups often form after the course.*

Scenes from our Mudgee writers’ group retreat 2021

Looking for more writing advice? Check out these posts
The secret to fighting project inertia
Be the fan you wish you had
Trust the process
How to write a book in 5 words a day
From final draft to publication to audiobook
Rejection goals and more: an interview

sutherlandshire-baxter-kalagian-blunt authors

This August, you can also join me for two online sessions with Writers Unleashed.

Writers Unleashed Festival
Saturday 21 August 2021
Online!
Full-festival access pass $90
Writers Unleashed has a fantastic line-up of authors on this year’s online program, and I’ll be taking part in two sessions:

Getting Your Scenes Right: The Nitty-Gritty of Scene Structure
9:30-10:30am **live**

Social Media and Building an Author Profile
Pre-recorded, part of your seven-day access pass
Ashley Kalagian Blunt & ​Alan Baxter

Hope to see you there!
xo

*These tips were originally published on Word Mothers.