Writing is a very solitary activity; we sit there on our own, writing away on our computer or laptop, or even doing it “old school” via paper and pen, pouring out our stories and preserving our characters there in the written word. But how do we know that what we are writing is any good?
We can ask our family and loved ones, but will they give us the feedback we need? They are our loved ones and so often they want the best for us and may not give us the feedback we require, or they may not be able to handle what we are writing about, especially if it doesn’t fit their image of us. As a teenager I wrote poetry, like so many teenagers. I wrote a poem about loneliness. It was bitter, angry and dark. “Nothing kills you faster than loneliness,” was its last line. My mother read the poem and said it was “Nice.”
As writers we can get so absorbed in our own writing, get so far into our characters’ heads that we can miss the obvious. We may have failed to introduce our characters, not given them a distinctive enough voice; we may have left huge plot holes; we may have overused one particular word literally. Because we are so close to our writing, we can’t see these mistakes. We also need to know that our writing is readable and engaging, and that cannot always be achieved by rereading on our own. Good and honest feedback will always make our writing better.
Writers’ groups have provided me with this; they have been a wonderful source of feedback and support. I’ve learnt so much just from meeting with other members.
The first writers’ group I went to was when I was eighteen. The Old Swan Writers were based in the Old Swan district of Liverpool and it was one long bus ride away from my then home. Those bus rides gave me plenty of time to think and read. But that writers’ group told me and showed me I could write. This group of adults showed me I could create a story and characters, plot it out and write it down on paper. It was an amazing revelation. There I received feedback without any agenda. They weren’t pulling me down because they thought I was getting above myself by wanting to be a writer or else telling me polite things because that was what they thought I wanted to hear, both of which had happened before.
(Unfortunately, after an extensive Google search, I cannot find any mention of the Old Swan Writers. Like all good things, they seem to have ended)
When I moved to London, I stopped attending any writers’ group, not because London is short of them but because I led a very gypsy lifestyle in those early years. I changed jobs frequently and I often moved home. I only really started to settle down when I started my nurse training, and that didn’t leave me much time to write anything that wasn’t related to my studies.
I seriously came back to writing after the millennium, when I started to find many avenues for my writing, not just fiction. It was also when I reconnected with a writers’ group, first online and then later in person.
I’m now a member of my local writers’ group, Newham Writers Workshop, and they have been so helpful. I’ve had some very helpful feedback on my writing, how my plots and characters are working, how readable my writing is, how my descriptions work, how they paint a picture for the reader. I have also learnt so much about the craft of writing, subjects like “head-hopping”, “filter words”, distance and intimate view points and about using the “unreliable narrator”. I learnt about self-publishing from my writers’ group.
But giving feedback to other writers has also helped me. We have a policy of always giving feedback that supports the writer in what they want to write. So there is no saying, “I don’t like this,” neither can you just say, “I liked this.” You have to explain why, what makes this a good piece of writing, where the writer could improve it, what does not work but why it does not work. I have also been exposed to some amazing writing there, listening to/reading other writers’ work has opened my eyes to how you can do things differently and stylistically. It has also shown me what my own personal style is; I like to write from a very intimate point of view of my characters, to get under their skin.
The vast majority of my stories in Case Studies in Modern Life have benefited from the feedback from my writers’ group, in some cases I have completely rewritten them after getting some really thought-provoking feedback.
My writers’ group has also shown me how inclusive my writing is. The previous two writers’ groups I joined (one online and one in person) were both LGBT groups. I wanted the support of other LGBT writers, it was a safe place and a safe idea, but good things can come to an end and both these groups closed for different reasons. I’m now a member of my local writers’ group and this is an open group. I’m the only openly gay man there and yet that has never been an issue. Now I am writing about gay issues and themes; the other writers there have understood my writing and have seen what I want to write about. It has shown me that my writing has a wide appeal and that is amazing and very reassuring. Newham Writers Workshop has been the last cog, though a very big one, in the machine that encouraged me to publish my collection of stories, and I’m very grateful for this.
And then there is the social element. After each meeting, when meeting face-to-face, most of us go to a local pub for a drink. Talking with other writers about writing in general, or even life in general, is a breath of fresh air. It takes the solitude out of it all. And I’ve made some good friends there from very different backgrounds. It is nice to get out of my comfort zone.
I would encourage any writer to join a writers’ group; no matter what your experience or level of writing, you can only benefit from good and honest feedback.
Edited by Drew Payne
To add image