Why join a writing group?

By Trudy Oldaker,
Write for Community, Shepparton campus, La Trobe University

Writing is a solitary activity and every so often writers need to hit <pause>, <refresh> and rejoin the world. A writing group is composed of like-minded people who understand the light bulb moment of an idea, the frantic scribbling of inspiration, the heartbreak of rejection, the agony of rewriting, and the thrill of seeing a labour of love finally published.

A writing group can be small and intimate, where members get to know details of each other’s backgrounds and personalities so that each writer feels safe when writing about personal trials, hopes, and fears. A writing group can be large where members immerse themselves in the stories of guest speakers and writing workshops. Or it can be anywhere in between.

Most writing groups meet once a month. Some meet over lunch or dinner, some meet for a few hours in the morning, in the afternoon, or the evening. Meetings can be held in a room as part of a cafe or pub, a university or school, a library or community house, a sympathetic business, or in members’ homes. Cost can range from free, to $2 to cover tea or coffee, to annual membership of $30-$50, or the price of the meal.

Some groups spend time on writing exercises, others on members reading current work and asking for constructive criticism, some will give each writer time to talk about their current writing achievements and endeavours, and many will set homework which can be beneficial for writers who are time-poor with family and work commitments. The main goals of a writers’ group are to encourage and inspire, to be sensitive when critiquing each other’s work, and to suggest publishing opportunities. A writing group has fulfilled its purpose if members are bursting with creative ideas by the end of the meeting.

No matter the size or format of the group, being part of the larger writing world beyond the confines of your own keyboard is a valuable form of networking. By listening to other writers, you learn about opportunities for publishing, for studying writing techniques, for entering competitions, and visiting writers’ festivals or famous literary locations. You also discover where the more specialised groups are tucked away, like reading Dylan Thomas or Shakespeare, writing haiku or romance, or postal and online workshops.

Many country towns have writing groups: it’s simply a matter of asking at their local community house, library, or information centre. At the Shepparton Campus of La Trobe University, English lecturer, Dr Marg Hickey enthusiastically runs Write For Community from 4pm-5pm on three Wednesdays each month during semester. Open to La Trobe students and members of the wider community, Write For Community consists of 20 minutes of silent writing and then sharing and discussing the work. The aim of the group is to improve writing skills and to promote the group’s work to the wider community.

Also in Shepparton, the Goulburn Valley Writers’ Group meets one evening each month at a local hotel, many enjoying dinner together beforehand. GV Writers’ meetings consist of members sharing their writing and their achievements as well as workshops. For women writers who have difficulty in attending a writing group because of various reasons like limited mobility or transport difficulties, the Society of Women Writers in Victoria has postal groups where members email their writing to each other for encouragement and critiques. Details are on both their websites.

All writers, from those starting out to those well published, benefit from being part of a writers’ group. JRR Tolkein and CS Lewis bounced ideas off each other in their writing group. It doesn’t matter what you call yourself, whether writer or journalist, poet or playwright, biographer or novelist, there will be a writing group that suits you.

Trudy Oldaker is a member of Write For Community, GV Writers, Nagambie Writers, Society of Women Writers Vic, and Melbourne-based Eve Fortune Writers’ Group.