Do you write alone but long for a closer connection with other writers in your area? Do you want more writing practice or are you seeking a critique of your work? Maybe it’s time for you to join a local writing group; a group that’s just right for you. In this post I’d like to share my own writing group experience. At the end, I’ve included a link to a list of writing groups in York Region, along with some tips for finding a group if you don’t live in this area.
My own quest to find a writing group was initiated back in 2008 after I completed a five day writing retreat with Barbara Turner Vesselago. Before the retreat, writing was something I did alone. But during the retreat, I realized how much I liked being with other writers. When it ended, I longed for the same type of connection locally. That was when I discovered Newmarket Freeflow Writers, a writing practice group that met at the Taylor Funeral Home. As I mustered up my courage to attend my first meeting.
I remember being warmly welcomed to my first meeting by Vicki Pinkerton, who was leading the group that night. I both wrote and, in spite of my nervousness, read my writing that evening, and I have been writing with the group ever since.
Newmarket Freeflow Writers was founded by Lois Hayes and Janice Turner about six years ago. The two had been attending a writing group in Uxbridge, and when that group ended, they decided to create a group of their own. Taylor Funeral Home made a spacious meeting room available at no charge, and Lois and Janice found they were able to run the new group without fees, or even a formal membership structure. These days a core group of writers attends the meetings, while others drop by as their schedule permits.
I’d like to bring you along to a typical meeting of Newmarket Freeflow Writers. Group members represent a wide range of ages backgrounds, and experience, but all share a love of writing. Leadership of the group is rotated, with a different person providing the prompts each evening.
The leader begins the session with introductions and if there are new people, reviews the guidelines for feedback. Then they lead a guided meditation to help everyone relax and let go of the stresses of the day, followed by the first prompt. Prompts might be a group of objects, a selection of photographs, a poem, or a line from a book. In response to the prompt, writers may write a purely fictional piece, or write from personal experience; they may also decide to write a piece focused on a character from their own work. A second piece of writing is completed, then the leader invites the writers to read one of their pieces. The writers always have the option to pass. I recall that my heart pounded the first night I read my work aloud, but I had been welcomed so warmly and the group response was so positive, I felt encouraged to return.
When someone is reading, the group listens intently. After the reader has finished, the leader asks the group what stayed with them, and feedback is given to the writer; it may be a word, an image, the tone of the whole piece, or a thread that wove its way through the writing. This newly “birthed” writing is not critiqued. The group also treats everything that is written as fiction, referring to the “character” or the “narrator” as opposed to “you”, so that the focus is on the writing, not the writer. The writers get a sense of what worked well, and feel encouraged to write more.
Here are some examples of the breadth of written responses that might be generated by a single prompt. Since we maintain confidentiality about everything that is read in the group, the following examples are taken purely from my own imagination, for demonstration purposes.
- a piece about being taken to a market by a beloved parent
- a memory of cooking a Moroccan stew from the vegetables sold at the market
- a mini-story involving one writer’s character who is having a heated argument with her partner in the middle of the market, as the crowd swirls around the angry couple
- the story of a grandparent who lived in an old house in the market after they immigrated to Canada from Russia
- a piece about leaving home as a young woman
- a story about a grandfather’s tool shed, where the elderly man made whimsical bird houses
- an exploration of the meaning of home, and the importance of creating a nest
- a story about a pair of robins that nested in an ornamental birdhouse near the front door of the writer’s home
The benefits of a writing practice group are many, and include opportunities to:
- write regularly in a distraction-free environment
- generate drafts of work that can be turned into a short story, poem, etc.
- develop listening skills
- develop the skill of identifying what is strong in a piece that has been written spontaneously
- hear different types of writing, each piece read in the author’s own voice
- make new friends who share a passion for writing
- feel part of a writing community
The benefits of a writing critique group include many of the above, plus:
- the opportunity to receive critiques of your writing, and critique the writing of others
As I mentioned before, Newmarket Freeflow Writers is a writing practice group. The focus is on writing spontaneously in response to prompts. Many other groups focus on the review/critique of work previously written. If you’re not sure which type of group is right for you, I’d suggest you attend a few different groups as a guest.
Below is a link to a list of writing groups in York Region. Included is a brief description of each group, the time and place they meet, and a contact person. If you don’t live in York Region, consult writing teachers in your area, or contact your local library and ask for recommendations of groups. The next meeting of Newmarket Freeflow Writers is Tuesday, October 22 from 7:00 pm. – 9:00 p.m., Taylor Funeral Home, 524 Davis Drive, Newmarket. All are welcome.
Are you part of a writing group? I’d love to hear about your experiences.
Until next time,
For a list of writing groups in York Region, click on the link below, then click on the second link that appears.
Our next writing retreat will take place on Sunday, November 3rd. We hope you can join us.
If you enjoyed reading this post, why not subscribe to our blog? Just enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top right hand corner of this page. The names of new subscribers in October will be entered in a draw to win a copy of On Writing Well by William Zinsser. Our September winner was Brenda Harper who wins a copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.