Tuesday 24 January 2017

Counselling for writers?

Image: morguefile.com
It's a truth universally acknowledged that writers are an insecure bunch. We need constant reassurance that our work is brilliant - that is, if we ever let anyone outside of the family circle* read it. But assuming we venture out to a writing group at which we are expected to share our precious words, what do we think will happen? Is it more useful for people to say, 'Oh, that's lovely, you are clever,' which massages our ego; or is an honest appraisal better? Obviously no one wants to hear, 'That was rubbish, Don't give up the day job,' but something like, 'I enjoyed the start, but do you think you lost your way in the middle at bit?' is surely kind and useful.

Either is fine with me, as long as I know what I'm in for. The group I attend most often is a gathering of people who like to write for its own sake, rather than us having any burning ambition for domination of the publishing world. We've had a modest successes, but that's not what we're about. Other groups, though, have been divisive when the critique of the writing has turned into criticism of the writers. I have dropped out of such groups.

Similarly, the social side is important. These people with whom we share our innermost thoughts aren't friends as such, but they provide (or should provide)  a safe, supporting environment. The role of the group leader is key here, and it's not a job I'd like. How do you make sure everyone has a fair turn at reading and sharing? What do you do with those people who steadfastly refuse to work on the suggested topic, and who drag every activity back to their favourite subject, be it wartime reminiscence or a penchant for satire?

And then there are those people who turn the writing group into their private therapy clinic. We've all got baggage and troubles, but there's a time and a place. I know that sometimes people need to get something off their chest, and a piece of writing can trigger memories and emotions that we weren't expecting. Better out than in, as they say. But isn't it important to remember that first and foremost this is a writing group, and not an AA meeting or a Relate session?

#justsaying, as the Twits, would have it.

* Stream of consciousness sidetrack moment - who remembers Family Circle magazine?


  1. On my now ancient creative writing diploma we were always encouraged to address three things when we evaluated someone else's writing. What intrigued us? What didn't we understand? and Where is it going? - meaning how could it be developed not what's next in the story! Useful tips I've found especially in critiquing my own work.

    1. Thanks, Elaine, for your wise words, as usual.

  2. I know exactly what you are talking about. When I first started going to my writer's group, I would feverishly rewrite other people's sentences to improve the grammar, add an interesting verb, or correct their capitalization. I thought I was brilliant. Now I think I was obnoxious. Our leader would add only a few comments. Some might be about word choice, but the best comments or questions would be about the character development or plot. We did get off topic plenty of times and sometimes things got personal (usually when it was ladies only).

    We finally got into a groove of passing around our writing samples round robin for the first thirty minutes or so. That way each person's writing got comments. Then we'd discuss things afterward.

    1. I think we can all be a little over-zealous, Tamara. I like the idea of the round robin approach.