A couple of years ago, I wrote about real-life writing groups. This summer, I’m involved in three different writing groups. The RL one is still going, though at least for the summer we’ve ditched the facilitator and are managing just fine on our own (and again, I wonder if getting us to that stage was one of the secret goals). There is one other person in that group who works on literature not so very far away from mine, and she and I can be very useful to each other as “real” readers, people who might run across each other’s work as we do our own research. The others have no real clue about our topics, but the effort of answering their very basic questions often produces insights that are worth writing down.
Then there are two online groups, the Stupid Motivational Writing Group organized by Jonathan Mayhew, and the one organized by Notorious Ph.D. and ADM. Jonathan’s just has members posting their weekly goals, and then reporting on how they did in the past week. The medievalists’ group also does that, but in addition the hosts ask thought-provoking questions about writing-related topics: what you did when you got scooped, how to get back on track with a laid-aside project, how you like to organize your time.
All my groups are useful, in their different ways. Weekly check-ins are good. Though the RL group meets weekly, we rarely talk about goals; rather, we discuss whatever piece of writing was submitted for that week, and then whoever is up next briefly introduces what is to come. In that respect, it’s product-oriented. So the Mayhew group is useful in clarifying what I want to do and making me face what happened if I haven’t done it.
But the medievalists’ group also has that aspect, plus it’s more helpful to me because it is so social. This may be a gendered preference; when I talked about this with Sir John, he said men are more likely to be motivated by the threat of public humiliation if goals are not met, while he thinks women are more motivated by positive social interactions. What matters to me is that I “know” a lot of the people in the medievalists’ group, some IRL, some through their blogs, and I made the acquaintance (whether virtually or RL) before the group started. So I care about their opinions; and I like hearing their responses to the questions (and those questions are a great way to get to know people I didn’t know of before the group started); and I enjoy the feeling of having a lot of company as we work toward our summer goals. And ADM and Notorious are good about giving feedback, too. Even a brief acknowledgement of one’s weekly comment is encouraging. Participants also interact with one another, offering advice on various topics, and I like that a lot.
The Mayhew group just doesn’t have this sort of interaction. I “knew” a couple of people in it before it started, but not so well as I “knew” some of the participants in the other group. I’ve checked out the blogs of some Mayhew-groupers, when they have blogs; and I’ve tried to comment on other people’s posts, to encourage some of the interaction that I like in the other group. But interaction isn’t really happening. The group seems very impersonal. Now, this may be deliberate. It throws people back on their own resources, and I can see the ways that this is a good thing (as I wrote about all the meta-purposes I could see in my RL group, in the post cited above). Writers need to be resilient in various ways, and just as being able to dismiss some comments from my RL group makes me better able not to get bent out of shape about comments received from reviewers, being left alone with my writing (after check-in) may be good for me.
Still, I find it so encouraging to check back to people’s comments in the group run by the medievalists. On a bad writing day, hearing what other people are achieving (or not) makes me want to emulate the currently happy writers, while it comforts me to know that they, too, had their bad weeks. I can easily believe that this is a gendered difference. The odd thing is that so often, I am a guy (don’t ask for directions, more likely to offer advice than just to let someone vent, etc). So I find it strange that when it comes to writing, I’m a girl. If that’s what it is.
Anyway, I want to thank all the organizers of writing groups. Clearly I find them useful or I wouldn’t be signed up for three different ones! Thanks as well to all the participants who make the groups possible. If you don’t have a writing group, allow me to encourage you to organize one; and if you do, I hope you’ll find this post useful. Think about what kind of group you want, and how to achieve that.