Wednesday, March 31, 2021

My Experience with a Writers' Group

Image by Oli Lynch via Pixabay

Spoiler alert: it's fantastic! 

Fear of looking foolish, and the misguided notion that I should be self-sufficient, but mostly fear, stopped me from seeking out and joining a support group. I am also a bit shy, so it was hard to embrace the concept of joining something established where everyone knew each other.

Enter the brilliant networking and advocacy group Women in Media, which I thoroughly recommend for any woman/woman identifying person working at any level in film or television. They inaugurated a writers' program last year, just in time for the pandemic, and created a system of writer's groups. 

Here's what was neat about it - they assigned us to brand new groups of mostly strangers (in my case all strangers) taking all the hard work out of it. We then determined our goals for the group, worked out our own schedule of meeting, style of group, and the focus. I feel like our group captured lighting in a bottle. I love these women, who all have unique and beautiful points of view. A couple of folks had different preferences, but now we have settled into a routine, embraced the occasional new member, and helped each other to all kinds of writing successes. 

For me, I have been encouraged and inspired to rethink my middle grade novel, rework some aspects of my fractured fairy tale story, and to commit to making my short film. It really has been wonderful, to also feel that I have been of some use to others. Even just hearing my work read aloud by other people is valuable, let alone the golden feedback I have received. 

So my advice to new writers, of any kind, is to find and join a group - or start one. Here are some tips that I have gained from the experience of others and my own.

  • Aside from the practical considerations of time and schedule, set expectations from the start about what kind of projects you will discuss. We do mostly scripts, with some treatments (and I had my own novels that I was working on adapting to scripts.)
  • Plan the meeting structure. How many pages will you read each session? How many writers will you critique? How do you decide who goes first? Will you be reading aloud during the meeting, or reading in advance (or both)? Does the writer get to make remarks, rebut or ask questions, or are they more of a fly-on-the-wall? 
  • Embrace technology. We meet via Zoom, have a Google Drive designated for pre-loading the pieces, and have a private Facebook Group for general discussion of other matters. One person sends a group email with the reminder and the link (we meet every other week), which allows us to RSVP as well. So far we have cancelled altogether only once when it turned out that only two people were available that week. Honestly meeting via Zoom is something that I enjoy even without the lockdown. It's so much easier than getting in the car and going someplace - plus our members are all over the country. 
  • Set up a time in the future - either a date, or after a set number of meetings - to officially evaluate how things are going, and if you want to continue. In our case, so far, the idea of stopping makes us very sad. 
  • Allow a specified time for each discussion and consider adding a few minutes for other business or announcements at the end too. That works well for our group. 

Being part of a group has given me a kind of accountability that I value - you know that I also recommend a writing buddy, especially if you have a deadline. But it has also given me inspiration and what feel like a bunch of new friends. Like I said, we are all over , but I hope I can meet every one of these people and host them in my home at some point in the future. 

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