I get great feedback
This must be the most obvious benefit of being in a writing group. I submit a short story every session I go to, and get feedback from peers and an experienced and qualified teacher. They point out mistakes I never would have seen on my own, give me tips and advice I couldn’t have come up with by myself and encouragement. There is nothing better than encouragement in the form of praise, knowing people liked my story, that they have faith in it, and they have helped show me the way forward if I want to improve the story until it’s the best it can be.
It taught me to focus on the bigger picture
When I first started giving feedback I’d get incensed seeing other people’s missing commas, sloppy speech quotes and typos galore. How much can they really be practising the craft, I thought, when they can’t get the basics right? It’s not that hard! How can a painter take himself seriously if he won’t learn the skills of his craft? Over time, however, I got to match up my impression of other people’s stories to the feedback from other people in the group. I began to see strengths in the stories with poor punctuation which I didn’t notice on my own. I realised I was obsessing over single brushstrokes when I should have been looking at the bigger picture. I realised you have to get the overall shape right before you start honing in on the details. It helped me write more quickly and fluently, because I allowed myself mistakes in the beginning while I was getting the shape right, then went back later to fix the little mistakes.
It made me more sociable
Often I think I would be quite happy living as a hermit, emerging from my shell and talking to people only when I have to do the day job or go to the shops.
But having a regular group to meet up has made me happy. It’s great having a feeling of community and interaction with others, and nice to have a place to socialise that’s separate to anything I do with my partner.
It’s helped me practice criticism
It’s a great skill to be able to give honest and balanced feedback to others. Good criticism should be a mix of praising achievements, while highlighting weaknesses. Bad criticism is all one or the other: a slew of harsh and hurtful comments or nervous and insincere praise. My group mates have all very kindly allowed me to practise my criticism on them and slowly I’ve noticed myself learning to focus on the right things, and helping them how I need it. This is related to my getting mad over individual brushstrokes, and gradually learning where I should be placing my focus. Reviewing others’ work with a critical eye slowly helps me train my eye for my own work too.
It makes me accountable
A lot of people in my writing group have mentioned how the group helps them write more, because the meet ups make them feel accountable to produce work. It’s good to feel accountability for your writing however you achieve that, because sometimes accountability is the only thing that can keep you crawling forward when you don’t want to do it. I use a combination of my own deadlines, a spreadsheet to track my word count and my writing goals, and challenging myself to produce work for the writing group on every allowable occasion. Taking my goals seriously and holding myself account has allowed me to produce far more and far better work than I ever could have done without that focus.