Reference: This is a post about writers workshops and writing groups, and is my take (and expansion) on ideas presented by academicwritingsuccess.com.
Disclosure: I am an editor. I also definitely have a teaching approaching when working with clients.
It’s a new year and, if you are like many writers, some of your resolutions revolve around finding and joining a writing group, whether or not to participate in writing challenges, join single-session or multi-session workshops, online or in-person, etc.
Writing group or writers workshop?
For many, “writing groups” is the umbrella term. Workshops are a specific subset and can fall into both formal and informal organizational styles. Some groups operate on challenges or prompts, and write together. Others come together to discuss writing and share the results of their individual writing for communal feedback. Some have mixes of these.
As a writer, I have participated in a number of different writing groups. Some were creative gathers and each session revolved around one or more prompts and “sprint writing.” Others fell into the “formal” workshop. No prompts here, just mutual critique on each individual’s work. While each may have been different, there was often at least a genre constraint. Regardless of format, members shared their writings to get feedback. It was expected if you were a participant, that you both gave and received feedback.
If you are considering joining a writing group, whether they call themselves a group or a workshop, ask yourself the following questions before committing:
- Am I willing to share my writing in a group of people and both give and receive feedback in a constructive manner?
- Where are you in your writing journey? If you just starting find a beginner’s group with perhaps a “lead.” If have writing experience, go with a “peer” group where more of the writers have a level of experience similar to yours.
- Do you need motivation to write? Consider groups that have some type of accountability.
- Do you want/need all the writers to be writing similar genre to you? Or are you interested in reading a variety of genres and taking feedback from writers who may be looking at your work through a different “lens”?
- Do you need/want to operate from prompts either to “prime the pump” or simply to enjoy the short form and creative sprints?
- Some writing groups and workshops have limits about what lengths can be submitted. Does your work easily fit into those confines or will you find yourself constantly explaining prequel material to give context to what you share? Is the workshop/group amenable to this?
Online or in-person?
While this is perhaps newly in focus because of the pandemic, there are logistical issues to both formats. In-person workshops may require you to send in work ahead for the organizer to copy it for everyone, or for you to produce a copy for every participant. Others may be in-person for live writing opportunities and the environment itself may be used by the organizer(s) to support prompts.
Online workshops reduce some pressure for introverts or those reluctant to “face” the critique of their work. You can use an avatar or simply turn off video and listen to comments. You can screenshare and not have to see anyone’s face. You can also do live prompts and screenshare for the “read” after the live-write.
Instruction or discussion?
Instruction often comes from a “lead” at the group. The leader may be a fixed individual every week, or the lead may rotate as topics are chosen and different members are the expert or volunteer to lead everyone through it.
Instruction has a tendency (though not always) to have the format: (1) instruction (2) examples (3) focused writing feedback. The same piece may be given feedback over several weeks, each time focusing on a different aspect of writing.
Discussion tends to be more of a “peer” format. No one is expected to be the expert, but everyone’s little bit of experience is shared so everyone can gain knowledge from each other’s experiences.
Discussion also often ends up discussing multiple aspects of the same work as each participant will have a different lens that they used to look at another’s work and so the feedback will differ from person to person.
Discussion often means that only a limited number of participants’ writings are discussed in any given session. Instruction has a tendency to get to everyone’s writing at least briefly because the feedback is focused on one aspect of the writing.
When you are looking at a particular writing group to join, ask how the writing will be generated, shared, and how topics of discussion or instruction will be presented. Also ask what the general makeup of the group will be (novices, experience, specific genres, etc). When you have those answers, you can make your best decision.
For information on the writers workshop that I run (which will be starting up in February, visit this page.