It’s a cliché, I know, that writing is a solitary activity, but our writing exists in a social context, even if it’s just an abstract relationship between writer and anonymous readers. The writing group provides a specific social setting for writing, but not all writers would feel comfortable about belonging to one. That’s fine. I’ve heard it said that writing groups result in a homogenisation of style, technique or outlook, and that may indeed be true of some, but it’s certainly not true of all.
Writing groups serve a number of functions:
- analysis and criticism of members’ work
- advice and encouragement
- development of skills and techniques
- writing practice
- social interaction
The first group I joined was Edinburgh’s School of Poets, founded more than 25 years ago by Tessa Ransford, and still going strong. It’s a ‘critical’ group, focusing on detailed analysis by small groups of each member’s poem. I know my own work benefited from such analysis, but living in Sunny Dunny after retirement, and being so busy with other things, meant that I had to leave the group some years ago.
I helped to found the Dunbar Writers’ Group not long after moving to the town. It aims to deliver all of the services listed above, and it’s become a focus for writing within the town’s thriving artistic community. I don’t lead the group now, members chair meetings in rotation, and I’m much happier with that. We joined the umbrella organisation – Tyne & Esk Writers – which looks after the interests of eight writing groups within Midlothian and East Lothian.
One of the Tyne & Esk groups is specifically for poetry, and it has adopted the ethos and some of the methods of work of the School of Poets. It’s always nice to meet up once a month in the old (if somewhat fusty-smelling) Council Chambers in North Berwick, and it’s an encouragement to write at least one decent poem every month.