Writing can be a lonely business. For most of us to focus on our work, we need to be in a place of quiet, calm and solitude. This is wonderful for wading through your book draft or crafting beautiful verse. In some ways, it’s not so good for your mental health. People are social creatures. We need interaction. And a good way to incorporate social skills and writing is to join a critique group, or writers’ circle. Like any new situation, this can seem like a potential minefield. So here are my DOs and DON’Ts for getting along with the group.
1. Do be sociable.
Share something about yourself. Talk to the group not just about your writing, but about your life in general. Share a little of yourself. Not only will it help you make friends, but knowing a little about you helps others to place your writing in context.
2. Don’t be a “back seat writer.”
Have you heard the term “back seat driver?” Well, every writing group I’ve ever attended has its resident back seat writer. This is the person who never submits any work to be critiqued, never participates fully in writing exercises, never shares their work (but has plenty) and usually has only negative and derogatory things to say about others’ work. Don’t let this be you.
3. Do be gentle.
There are various skill levels in writing circles, and it’s rare to find one where all participants are equally skilled. If there’s someone whose work really isn’t cutting it, remember that we’ve all been there sometimes. Try and use the “praise sandwich,” a constructive comment balanced between two positives. Don’t say, “That piece is utterly flat and lacks description.” Instead try, “I really like the way you construct clean, concise sentences. I think you need to pay a little more attention to incorporating sensory detail. The piece overall definitely has promise.” In other words, treat others as you would like to be treated.
4. Don’t take things personally.
If someone else isn’t as au fait with the “praise sandwich” as you are, try and be forgiving. After all, they are criticizing the writing, not the writer. And not every piece of criticism you get will be useful. Some of it you have to let wash over you.
Writing circles are a fun way to meet like-minded people and share your writing. Be kind, be courteous, have fun, and you’re sure to see both your writing prowess and your social circle grow.
Helen Dring is a fiction writer from Liverpool, England. She is studying for an MA in Creative Writing and is currently writing her first novel. She likes fairy tales, ghost stories and modern history.