Off to See My Women, the Wonderful Women of Group!

Post Date: January 21st, 2012

Today I’ll be welcomed by warm words and hugs.

Image found here

Today I’ll see kindred spirits who bend over pages and screens trying to roust spirits–trying to capture words to match the energy in our heads.

Today I’ll commiserate about long-term projects–books that won’t get written, sermons that get stuck, short stories grown too long, essays that writhe away, and blogs and columns that need focus.

Today I’ll hear success stories and failure stories, joy and worry, and of course the disclaimer of, “This is rough, but I’ll read it…”

“NO DISCLAIMERS!” we holler back at the offender. We’ve tried to make the No Disclaimers rule, but someone violates it every time. We accept it cheerfully in ourselves and one another. We all struggle for the confidence to read something raw and unfinished.

This writing group is full of accomplished women who lead in various realms. My writing companions prove to me that those with power can still speak humbly, unofficiously, and thoughtfully. I always walk away startled by the mental prowess, the spiritual strength, and the inner beauty of this gathering.

When we exit, we know the world won’t always get what we have to say, but we’ve found the strength to speak out. As women we are blessed to write in 2012, not 1912 or 1812. Virginia Woolf explained how an imaginary Judith–Shakespeare’s sister–had so many obstacles to writing that lacking a group would have been one of the smaller insurmountable barriers.

Today I plan to write the pages that just won’t come of a short story, once that’s too close to home. I know I can read it aloud and no one will flinch. That’s a sacred space we all need for our thoughts to grow.

In this mostly solo writing life, you gotta have a group.

I have another delightful group that meets twice a month with two other regulars besides myself, and we are very page and critique focused. I gain such valuable insight–a concern for character consistency, pacing, and clarity. We share our woes of revision, because this group has some heroic revisers. This group has an energy likewise nurturing, focused, and caring. My companions have patiently sat through different stages of HOW WENDY REDBIRD DANCING SURVIVED THE DARK AGES OF NOUGHT. They made my week when they looked at the second revision for my agent and said, “Now this is really working.” I had felt depleted walking into the meeting and left invigorated.

I also really appreciate how this group helps me think deeply about writing fiction. YA and adult literary fiction, contemporary women’s fiction, and children’s picture books that have changed hands. The principles of craft stay the same, but the needs of different audiences help us think nimbly about what readers want and how we can answer the call of others while staying true to ourselves.

Next week will be a week without either group. But I have a task ahead: I must make more pages before I see Stephanie, Jen, Marcia, Laurie, Katie, Beverly, and Susan again.

Knowing someone’s waiting for you will help you make a deadline. Knowing someone cares whether you do it well will help you get it right.

Writing Prompts:

  • Who can you trust to read your writing or listen well? What does the reader do that makes your writing better? What types of comments do you want about your writing? Record a comment that someone’s given you that’s been incredibly helpful.
  • Write a description of your ideal writing group. It could be one you’ve attended or one you dream of joining.
  • What role do you play in critiques and writing groups? What types of comments do you often make? How do people respond to them? 
  • When has your writing group irritated you? What can you learn from the critique? What is hard to hear about your writing that may be the lesson you don’t want? What might your partners’ dislike of the pages tell you about their reading preferences and writing style?
  • Write a scene about a group of writers tearing up a manuscript–joyfully or fearfully, carefully or viciously–and see if you or anyone you know shows up on the page. How can the scene reinvent critique, critique the art of critique, and explore what writers want and need?
  • Write a scene where two of your favorite female authors from different eras get to meet for a critique group. If Jane Austen had a group…If Edith Wharton had a group…If Lorraine Hansberry had a group…


  1. As a member of one of the groups you describe, I agree with your description. It is a sacred trust that elicits the best out of each of us and all of us together. Our group has helped my writing more than I can describe. The honesty, the support, the reflecting back, the affirmations, the act of reading aloud the silent words on a page–all of these things feel like spiritual practices to me. And for me, the connections that have grown in the group in the process are the marks of beloved community, too. A great blessing all around! Thanks for articulating it so well (as usual). And I love your short story by the way. I can’t wait to hear more.

  2. “Sacred trust” says it all, Marcia. I think we can’t enter into writing groups as casual interchanges or be there just to get a couple lines of critique. We’re handing over our small children laced with all kinds of fears and worry and hope. Thanks for being such a great group leader. There’s a whole other post in me about “Marcia = inspiration.”