ETS 217. Better known as Introductory Fiction Workshop. I was twenty, pursuing a B.A. in English literature, and I picked up the class on a whim because a friend of mine didn’t want to take it alone. Up to that point in my life, my creative work was a deep dark secret everyone knew about but I refused to let anyone read. Writing was in my soul and for that reason, I said, what the hell, and signed up anyway.
Now, the first day of class came and I was terrified. I didn’t know these people at all, had never met most of them, and they were supposed to read the words written in my soul and tell me what was wrong with them? Was I nuts? Yes, as a matter of fact, I was. And after 217 I took every workshop I could get my hands on until I eventually ran out and re-took them as independent studies. Turns out, that class was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Flash forward six or so years, I’m out of college and working a nine-to-five as a bank teller, up to my waist in writer’s blockage, with a dream of being an author without having had produced (let alone finished) a single project since 2012. I was going through an ugly sort of breakup and needed a distraction to take up space in my life. I had been unblocked for about three months, fighting daily to keep my momentum as not to slip back into another hiatus, still had not finished a project, and I needed desperately to stay on track. So I got on the interweb, found a group of writers who met once a week at a nearby café, and I went.
For those of you who aren’t sure what a writer’s group is: it’s a social group for writers to get together and submit work for constructive feedback. We max-out at 6000 words per submission. Longer peices are read in parts or chapter-by-chapter. Members have the week before to read one or two of the selected peices. Then we all meet up at a designated place to share our thoughts.
When I first joined that group, as a writer, I was at my most fragile state. My confidence in myself, in my vision, was nearly non-existent and I was pretty sure everything I wrote down was total horseshit. But I put on my big girl panties, I womanned the f-up, and I went to that goddamn meeting even though the thought of rejection scared me shitless. And if you haven’t already done so, here’s a bunch of reasons why you should too.
There’s No Pressure
I’m serious. You don’t even have to submit anything if you don’t want to. I went every Thursday for almost six months until I built up enough courage to turn something in, even then my hands shook the entire meeting. But I got through it. And I got through the next one too. And the next one. Now my hands don’t even shake anymore.
It’s very easy to slack off writing when no one in the world knows you’re supposed to be writing. It’s harder to slack off when someone not only knows what you’re writing but is waiting for the next chapter too. When someone approaches you after a meeting just to say how excited they are for more is a huge kick in the ass to keep writing. Just knowing they are invested reminds you that your idea isn’t shit, even if your mid-hate-spiral.
Source of Inspiration
Writer’s Block is a real bitch. Such a bitch, in fact, I created an entire blog just help myself (and hopefully you) combat it. When you’re deep into the weeds of a project, it’s really easy to hit a roadblock and have no idea how to proceed. A group offers several sets of fresh eyes. They will see things surface-level that you are too deep in to see on your own. They will see what is missing and can offer ideas on how to fix it. That in itself can inspire new connections and solutions you wouldn’t have necessarily thought of on your own.
Support and Encouragement
Everyone in that group is a writer on the same journey and you’re all in the group for the same reason: to improve as a writer and get your work to be the best possible version of itself. Once you realize that, you’ll realize there’s no reason to feel intimidated. Some people are stronger writers than you, some aren’t. Some are seasoned writers, having gone to school for it or multi-published authors, while others are just starting out.
One of the coolest things about my group is that it’s not just fiction specific. Or even genre-specific. My group houses novelists, short story writers, poets, and playwrights. Some of us are more fantasy-oriented, many write non-fiction pieces and realistic fiction, sci-fi, and the occasional surrealist or metafiction piece (which is me). Nothing is really off-limits.
There are so many more reasons I could get into for why joining a writing group is the one of the best choices you could make as a writer but the biggest one is this: they genuinely want to help. If you have any thoughts, comments, dissenting opinions or even just anything to add, drop a comment below. We would love to hear it.