I've been attending my writing group, Write You Are, for a year and a half now, since its start-up meeting. I also attended a previous group with some of the members for a couple of years before that. I can honestly say that I wouldn't ever want to be without it, and it feels wrong if I can't attend. The members are family to me.
I'm a motivated person who writes whether I have a reason to or not, but there's something special about a weekly writing session where you have the opportunity to mingle with other writers. Whether we're alike, character-wise or not, doesn't matter. What matters is that we all write. And not everyone else understands the writing compulsion. Indeed, other group members are surrounded by family who do not support or appreciate just how much their writing means to them, and how talented they really are.
So, what do we do at our writing group? Well, it depends.
Rarely we have outside speakers. It has happened, but we don't seem to need it.
More often, members of our group will present sessions. These can be about absolutely anything. Sometimes they're about abstract concepts such as descriptions of colour, the senses, the linguistics or comedy... or perhaps they might be about an unusual writing concept, perhaps a form of poetry, or even a writing style, methods or something that's currently in the news and able to provoke debate and potential for inspiration.
But even if we don't present sessions we are comfortable holding an open session, where the group is not led by anyone in particular. For two hours we sit around a table in a comfortable room inside the local Methodist church hall. Mainly we chat, but we open with news (writing and other) and then will read out anything produced for last week's home assignment.
Sometimes our readings are met with gentle criticism, or the odd comment about what could perhaps be done better (in my case, I read far too quickly, keen to get it over with!) but normally they are met with the positive praise of our writing friends who are keen to encourage and share in your triumphs.
Half way through it is break time, with hot drinks and biscuits, subsidised by our £3 a week fee (it also goes to pay for the room). After the break we continue with more chat, usually. We chat about our writing, we ask for advice, and we tell our friends what we're working on. And sometimes (these are my favourite times) we are given a writing challenge and take up our pens to longhand-scrawl into our pads: writing to exercise our imagination or our technique. If we get time we read these out loud too.
Some people reading this may be apprehensive if they've never shared one of their literary 'babies' with another living soul - and many writers are definitely in this position. Writing is such a solitary and personal act that we almost can't bear to share and to get our work 'out there'. Are the words on our pages like a recalcitrant child - forever to be chastised and kept under lock and key?
I don't believe so.
I believe my work has improved enormously as a result of attending Write You Are, and I believe that some of my happiest and most fulfilling moments occur at writing group, or while preparing my pieces for it. I believe that the support received there has been essential to me and am convinced that, without it, I would have given up many moons ago.
So, if you're a writer, new or old, and have never considered attending a writing group, give it a go. What's the worst that can happen? Sure, you may feel a little shy and uncomfortable at first, and I'm sure that not all writing groups are a wonderfully friendly as mine is, but give it a go. And if you don't like that one, try another one. Go on, give it a go.