Writing, by its very nature, requires us to work alone. Even those of us working in corporations, nonprofits and academic institutions have to shut ourselves off from our colleagues to do our jobs. Those of us doing contract, freelance or independent work, writing our own poetry and prose are even more isolated. Interruptions are sabotage, stealing precious time or even more precious thoughts or words.
After agonizing hours, days or weeks, we present our products to those paying us to write them. Feedback tends to run in three veins: Great. Thanks. This misses the mark. Unless we’re very fortunate, we rarely have access to peer review, other writers who can provide guidance on how to express our thoughts better.
Writers are no different from athletes. Serena Williams didn’t start winning tournaments just by returning balls she hit against backboards. She discovered and refined her style by practicing, getting great coaching and learning from other outstanding players. To improve and find our unique voices as writers, we need both practice and feedback from editors and other writers.
Workshops and conferences can be valuable, but these once- or twice-a-year avenues aren’t enough. I’ve written before about how invaluable I find my critique group peer feedback. I adopt and adapt some of their suggestions as I hone my skills and find my rhythm.
Critique groups provide hard looks and constructive comments that writers need. But we need more. Through online or in-person groups like the 92-year-old Charlotte Writers’ Club, writers can solicit general input in more casual settings than critique groups often provide.
Both critique groups and writing communities offer something that writers get nowhere else: the sense that we aren’t alone. There are a whole lot of writers out there. Writing communities validate what we do. We discover that every writer, at one time or another, has looked at untold hours’ worth of their work as worthless drivel. Some of it is. Writing communities help give us the courage to hit delete and start again, confident that we are not alone.