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Volunteer Holly ponders the benefits of a writers group.

Creative writers take little pieces of their souls and turn them into words. It’s a daunting task that requires courage and stamina. If the work ends there, then the writer can feel measured satisfaction in the act. But many writers want to mold and shape their words into the best possible form, tweaking and revising until the results are worthy of being shared.

A writer who seeks the help of other wordsmiths is rewarded beyond measure. Writers groups, also called critique groups, are an essential tool for serious writers. Writers groups provide insight, motivation and support in a task that is largely solitary.

I learned this lesson young. My father was a children’s book author at the height of his modest success when I was a child. My weekends were spent by his side at book signing events and writers’ conferences. I’ll never forget the train ride north that brought him and me to an elementary school where I sat with students my age and listened to him open their eyes to the worlds of possibilities they could explore through words. But my favorite activity was when he handed me one of his manuscripts and a red pen and said, “Have at it. I want you to write down what you are thinking as you read. If you think I can do it better, let me know.” I took this responsibility very seriously, knowing that kids all over the country, children who I went to school with, would someday be reading this book. I was also grateful that my father trusted me, believed in me and admitted to me that he wasn’t perfect and that I, a short, mosquito-bitten nine-year-old, had the power to help him.

Seeing both sides of the writer’s life has helped me keep a realistic perspective on my own journey with words. Success isn’t a fantasy. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. But writing takes work, and it also takes reaching out and asking for help.

On the last day of a creative writing class offered through the county recreation center, a woman stood and asked that anyone who would like to form a critique group please write their name and number on a sheet of paper. What started out as a mixed bag of total strangers grew to be one of the most important and longest running sources of knowledge and inspiration in my life next to my family.

I’ve listed below just a few of the benefits I’ve received through being a part of a writers group:

  1. I’m not alone and I’m not crazy. Here is a group of people on the same quest as me. Walking our journeys together helps make the process less lonely and a lot more fun.
  2. In trusting others with “my babies,” I learned that a writers group will care for them, nurture them and help them to grow stronger. And I will do the same with their “babies.”
  3. My ego is not as important as I once thought. While everyone wants to hear what they are doing right, learning how to fix what I’ve done wrong has been vital to improving my craft.
  4. The suggestions that are given during a critique are really only educated guesses on what might work better. Just as I won’t make every change recommended, I also should not expect every one of my ideas to be embraced. A writer is the authority of their own work, no one else.
  5. Having a variety of people from different backgrounds brings a wider perspective to the table. One person may see the big picture and have strengths in structure and flow; another person may be able to dissect a sentence to find the very best words and know just how to place them.
  6. The minds of others contain a vast encyclopedia. There is only so much research that one person can do. Often, group members offer answers to questions that I would never have even known to ask, and my writing is made more rich and authentic as a result.
  7. Most writers have the intention of sharing their work with a larger audience. Having a buffer, a practice audience so to speak, helps build our confidence when the time comes to send our drafts out into the world.

I have found my writers group to be a lifeline that keeps me focused on my journey ahead. We share each other’s successes and comfort each other’s pain. I attribute a huge amount of what I know about writing to the various members who have come and gone throughout the years.

The Maryland Writer Association and the Children’s Book Guild of Washington D.C. are amazing resources for helping to find writers groups throughout the metropolitan area. Or someone can do what the founder of my writers group did – just stand up and ask.

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