I’m a firm believer in the power of writing groups. Perhaps I indirectly learned their power from my participation in Toastmasters, Int’l many years ago. Toastmasters is based on the concept that peers can use basic training materials to mentor each other as they develop their ability to communicate in groups. In retrospect I realize I received a heap of benefits from my Toastmasters experience:
A continuing audience. My fellow club members listened to me time after time, which enabled them to track my progress in a meaningful way and provide helpful feedback.
Action deadlines. Speakers must perform, and need audiences. Writers can write in solitude, but the commitment to share with a group is powerfully motivating.
Structure. In the beginning, the Toastmasters manuals provided guidance through initial steps of learning to organize and deliver short speeches. Writing groups that begin with classes also offer this advantage. Over time I moved beyond the manuals, but still benefited from the structure of a group that regularly held well-planned and organized meetings.
New friends. This proved to be a fringe benefit I had not expected. Members of Toastmasters clubs tend to become well-acquainted and close friendships often develop. The same is true, perhaps even more so, in writing groups especially life writing groups.
Group effort. Learning to communicate in groups is not something you can do alone. It takes a group. Toastmasters fills that need.
Not all writing groups are equally successful. I’ve belonged to a few that fizzled. One was a general writing group that met at a Barnes & Noble store many years ago. The group had no formal leader and completely dissolved when a scary person began attending. Another was begun by a person with personality quirks that send new members fleeing. A third was formed by several mature women who saw writing as a career enhancement tool. All became too busy to continue.
The groups that have been the most rewarding and helpful have been life writing groups. All the ones I’m currently involved with spun off from classes I began teaching with the specific intention of keeping myself writing. Members of these groups have grown to feel like family. Each of these groups provides the same benefits as a Toastmasters club: a group of people who regularly read each other’s work, provide feedback and monitor progress, deadlines for writing, a certain amount of structure (especially in the preliminary classes), group effort and new friends.
I especially stress that last factor. There is something about sharing stories from our lives that opens hearts and bonds people. There’s another advantage to hearing other people’s stories: new story ideas flow thick and heavy, nurturing creativity and expanding the reach of personal memory.
As members move on to other areas, new groups are beginning to form. To encourage the development of more groups all over the country and the world, I’m planning to showcase a few groups I know of. If you belong to a group and would like to have it featured, please send me an e-mail. If you’d like to start a group, stay tuned. Guidelines for starting and maintaining a thriving group will be forthcoming.
Write now: write an essay about your experience with writing groups or other support groups. If you belong to a group, write about the people in it and your experiences. How do you feel about the group? What would you change? How has it helped you? If you don’t belong to a group and would like to, make plans to find one or start one.
Photo credit: James Mitchell