I don’t suppose that any writing advice is universally applicable, but finding some way of connecting with others seems pretty important to me. Writing is, on the whole, a very solitary activity, so belonging to some sort of group adds a dimension to your ways of working. If you are not sure which would be worse: to expose yourself to the comments others might make about your work, or to exercise your creative skills in finding something vaguely pleasant and approximately truthful about that of other people, then fear not – there are many different ways of being part of a writing community, and there may well be one that suits your preferences better.
Actually, a group of writers, all ideally at similar stages in their careers or acquisition of their craft, each examining and commenting on each other’s work, can be a very helpful and supportive way of getting feedback. Reading or listening to a short story, poem, or chapter of a novel, with the intention of discussing it with the rest of the group and the author, also fosters the kind of close concentration and objectivity that you will need when you come to edit your own work. So even if the thought of this sort of group makes you cringe, it’s worth trying – you may find, as I do, that the benefits far outweigh the fears!
If you want the feedback, but not the company, there are several online options, from sites that allocate you to a group of writers in a similar field to sites where you earn points of some kind by reading and commenting on other people’s work, which you can then “spend” on having others do the same for yours. The better sites have mechanisms for easing out those who want reviews of their pieces, but provide substandard feedback, or copy-paste waffle that makes it clear they haven’t actually read your submission; nevertheless, make sure you know how to report unconsidered or inappropriate comments. There are also websites run by writers who offer a guided writing group; if you are tempted by the bonus of experienced or professional advice that these can offer, be sure that you have read and enjoyed some of the author’s work!
There are many ways of learning more about the craft of creative writing. There are plenty of universities offering certificate, diploma, degree or post-graduate courses, and adult education centres often have a variety of options. There are many dedicated writing venues; our local bookshop has workshops once in a while in an upstairs room, and a craft and creative activities venue in the next village also offers occasional sessions on facets of writing or storytelling. There are also residential options, from guided retreats lasting a week or more to weekend conferences with sessions on every aspect of the craft, or two-day events run by a single author. Most such courses provide opportunities to share work in progress with other participants, as well as formal instruction and/or inspiration, and in some cases, one may meet someone who becomes a long-term writing buddy via email or Skype.
I have tried all of the above at various stages in my writing career, and have gained a great deal from each of them. I suspect that what is appropriate depends as much on one’s needs at the time as on one’s character! At the moment, the form of sociable writing that brings me the most pleasure is a group that meets more or less weekly, with a very loose structure. The intention is not to read each other’s work, but simply to provide a space in which we each get on with our own writing. Sometimes we meet in a café, sometimes in one of our homes. After greeting each other, we usually write more or less in silence for around forty-five minutes to an hour, and then break for a drink and snack or lunch, followed by another writing session. During the break, we chat, often but not always about writing, and one or other of us may ask for feedback on a passage or short story, or may ask for advice on a sticky point. Some of us attend very regularly, and others drop in and out as other commitments and their writing needs dictate, so that the size of the group fluctuates. I find it much easier to stay on task during these sessions, and often use them to start a difficult article, or move a stalled piece forwards, as I can’t give up or go and do something else! Once a piece is flowing freely, I can safely leave it to be finished on my own, so I may work on two or three tricky passages during a session: a very productive use of my time!
What opportunities do you make to write sociably?