I didn’t think a writer’s group was for me. Solitude was what brought out my creative ideas. I certainly didn’t expect a writing group to help me grow as a human being.
I feel differently now.
Some days scrolling through the how-to advice on my laptop is like walking through a forest while being bombarded by squadrons of gnats. There’s no getting away from the swarm of emails, articles and blogs on craft and marketing advice about building a platform, how to use social media to improve your brand, productivity, and so on.
Granted, no one is holding a gun to my head to make me read those articles. I put the pressure on myself. I want to be a better writer (learn not to use clichés) and I want to learn more about how to reach readers. But through my writing group, I’m able to step back and find perspective.
My Amherst Writers and Artists group is an oasis of calm in a multitasking world. It’s an island where there’s no right or wrong way. We write, we read, we listen, we talk. We don’t judge. We respond to someone’s first bloom of creativity by deep listening. We often ask the writer to read the piece again, or to repeat lines. We take our time. We tell the writer what touched us, what phrase, tone, word or idea caught our imaginations. We always offer positive feedback. It’s not a critique group. What we’ve written are rough first drafts of possible poems, beginnings of short stories or new scenes for a novel or memoir. Sometimes it’s humorous, sometimes heartbreakingly sad, and always written from deep truth.
How has listening affected my life outside the writing group?
Like most of the tech-crazed people I know, I am often guilty of locking my eyes on my cell phone or staring at an overhead television at a restaurant with spouse or friends, or losing the thread of a conversation because my mind is on what I have to do next or what I’m going to say.
My writing group has reminded me to fully listen to what others are saying and to take the time to respond thoughtfully to their words. It’s not a dashed off email, or a tweet or an Instagram or Facebook post or even a blog. It’s an intimate connection. I’ve learned that it’s a gift when someone really listens to me, and I love returning that gift. It’s making me a better person and a better writer.