If You Want Change in Your Writing, Consider Joining a Writing Group

  “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Jillian Michael’s shouted through my mobile fitness app as I did what felt like my 100th burpee.  In reality, I think it was my fifth.  Even through my exhaustion, those words instantly made sense to me.  How could I change anything without pushing myself further than I had before?

I think this advice is universal.  Not just in losing weight and gaining strength, but just about anything else we endeavor to be better at and achieve greater results than we currently possess.

Making the leap to surround myself with other writers and creatives was quite daunting and uncomfortable. However, when I signed up for my first writing group at my local library, I felt triumphant, strong, and steady. The class wasn’t starting for two weeks.

Somehow, the day to attend the class snuck up on me and said ‘Boo’, and, I jumped with fear.

A feeling of general malaise poured over me, with possible upchucking ever close by.  What on earth had I been thinking? I was filled with doubt, vulnerability and yes, I was feeling quite uncomfortable.

As I drove to class, I thought about turning the car around multiple times.  Where I could stay in the comfort of my own house, and in my cozy, warm pajamas, writing by myself.

Luckily, my motivation for change and connection in my writing process won out and helped me park my car and enter the room.

I remember sitting next to an older man. At this point, he and I were the first and only people present for the meeting.  He talked with me about the class and the usual set-up, and I felt some nervous energy roll from me.  Then as everyone else arrived, they too were kind and full of questions about me and who I was. Their kindness was just what I needed to feel better to pull myself from the edge of my discomfort.  They provided more support to me than they knew.

As I participated in my first writing class, I learned they were not so different from me.  They were people, just like me, wanting the same thing.  To write.  

I continued forward in my journey with baby steps each class. The uncomfortable feelings continued, but with less and less emphasis each time as I grew more comfortable with these writers and sharing my writing.

I did my best to journal about my writing class experiences whenever possible.  A trail of pages, dates, and memories.  Showing me and reminding me of the benefits, words and relationships.   

                           ************

I once mentioned in my writing group about the speed with which I had written a short storyI’d written a short story in two weeks, vs nine months and/or never finishing the story.  

I was giddy.  They concurred and explained that a writing group does keep us writing.

Writing groups fuel more writing, more often.

I learned I’d be writing during our meetings most of the time and then given assignments to complete by the next meeting.  These deadlines helped to improve my writing output. 

And, writing for the writing group built upon itself.  The more I was writing, the more I wanted to continue writing, making it a consistent habit.

Even though I truly enjoy writing, so much that I do it as often as I can around my other responsibilities, sometimes writing can feel like plain old work.  And sometimes I want to take the day off, and it’s not even my full-time job! And, taking a day off from writing is okay, and very healthy. 

What I’m trying to get at is: being part of a writing group pushed me to write even when it felt like grueling, humdrum work.  I did it anyway because it became a built-in habit. 

Of course, during these tough days, I may have been writing gibberish, an awful idea, or just plain staring off into the distance. But I think it’s important to get through these periods of time, so when we do have the creative inspiration there is no break in the writing habit allowing the words to flow when they are present. 

Writing exercises are a great source to use or work out an idea.

There was a point when I thought wait a minute. When will I have time for other projects; like writing a novel?  I learned; it wasn’t as much of a tug of war of time as I’d expected.

And as it turned out, I was able to incorporate most of those writing assignments in my fiction (and non-fiction) writing.  This realization snuck up on me.  After beginning a character, who is a single mother with a knack and drive to do it all, in order to keep her children safe and within a stable environment.  I noticed I needed more feeling, a more intimate look into how she was being pulled in so many different directions (job, childcare, recently widowed). Along with her feelings of being pulled under an overwhelming feeling of anxiety to attain her goal (keeping her job).  The specific feeling, I needed I’d already written in my writing group. We were tasked with writing about how to end a stressful day. In that exercise, I highlighted the anxiety and stress of my day.  The light bulb went off, I can use that inspiration right now, because it’s already completed and sitting in my writing group folder like a golden word treasure.

Not only did I have enough time to work on other things that were important to me, but the writing class helped me to do just that.  And I learned to write about different topics I wouldn’t have ordinarily picked myself – like trying to capture past childhood memories – challenging my comfort zone again, stretching my writing skills further and further.

The dreaded but oh so important critique

Remember those uncomfortable side effects? Well you may experience them during your critiques. Because it will be challenging to share this piece of you that you haven’t yet exposed to the outside world. It’s new, and fragile, it might break and end up in pieces on the floor. But the quicker you let your writing fall and clean it all up, the more beneficial the critique will be for you showing you the good and the not as good.   

The critique will eventually be something you crave.  A simple “that was good”, or “I didn’t like it” will no longer be enough.  You will want to know why and what can I do to improve it! 

Without the critique I may have never realized, I was being to mysterious; it turns out my readers couldn’t follow where I wanted them to go.  I thought I was leaving them clues, but I was only leaving them with frustration.  Now, I do my best to ask myself what questions the reader might have and write in the blanks to give my readers satisfaction. 

I try to share my work as often as I can, but there are times I will go to just participate in being at the meeting. I may not feel that I’m in the right headspace for a critique, or I’m not ready to read my work aloud.

But I truly get the most out of my writing group when I participate in the critique. It’s profound to know someone else’s perspective on your writing and see what it provokes in them as the reader.

Over time, relationships form, and these people will care about your work and want to help and see you succeed (and you will care about their writing and succeeding too).

Want to feel supported, yet also pushed to do better? Yup, sign me up!  Any writing group will ultimately propel you towards your own success. 

I feel a great amount of inspiration and admiration for the struggle of the writer, for the understanding of the time and effort it takes to spark an idea, to the writing it out on paper, too then bequeathing those words to the world’s readers. 

The words ignite from our breath, our skin, our fingers, our hearts.  They are our sustenance, our children, our pets, essential, wrapped up in our lives, plucked from our imagination, bled from our brains. 

The words flame from our lives: the happiness, the relief, the struggle, the ease, the emptiness. 

Other writers get this. They understand the vulnerability, your words, your life, your love of words. They want to take that, foster it, and give it strength.  They also want to see it succeed.

They are your support, like hands lifting you up on their shoulders.  They understand your triumphs and your missteps.  They’ve been there or will be.

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