We've just added a new member to our writer's group. For almost a year, the "group" consisted of Stacey and myself. And we had a revolving door of members who committed and then never showed, or couldn't stay because of extenuating circumstances, etc. When R joined us, Stacey and I were both excited to have a new pair of eyes and a new perspective. R has been a wonderful equilibrium, especially since Stacey and I are quite different stylistically, as are the kinds of things we like to write and read. But I got the sense yesterday that as all four of us sat in the restaurant, discussing R's story, that now we were a "complete" little group. And I had this silent moment of Presence, and thought, wow, this is really cool. We are still four very different writers w/ different backgrounds and experiences. But it works for us. We're very open and accepting of the feedback. We respect each other and are not afraid to be a little vulnerable now and then. I appreciate that.
I know that some writers don't like writers groups because they think having a group interferes w/ the process, and that first drafts aren't meant to be shown anyway -- especially not when they're half finished. And I can understand this; most of the time, first drafts are messy-- they lack focus, direction, details, coherence, etc. Most of the time the writer can't figure out what the hell's going on in a first draft, so how do we expect a reader to read it and respond favorably? In terms of academic writing instruction, sharing writing in draft form (a.k.a. peer review) has become standard practice. And yet, how daunting it is to hand over what you think is crap to another reader. It's tough, man.
But a writers' group has done several things for me. One, it helps w/ accountability and discipline. It gives me a deadline. When my turn rolls around, I damn well better have something to bring to the table. Two, it's a great opportunity to experience my writing from others' point of view. As a writer, I often try to step outside of myself and into the shoes of another reader, but my writers group almost always shows me something that I never could've seen myself. And three, it gives me a chance to read and respond to other writers, to glean ideas from them, to learn new genres that I otherwise wouldn't expose myself to. I've learned something about suspence-thriller thanks to Stacey's novels. R is writing a good murder mystery. And I'm looking forward to A's piece. It gives me a chance to not be a teacher and instead a peer. And it's nice to put that hat on from time to time.
And then, of course, there are the fortune cookies. Fortune cookies at our writers group meetings are always a good thing. Join a writers group just for the food opportunities -- the writing will benefit, too.