The best writing group I’ve ever been a part of wasn’t an official writing group. In fact, I didn’t realize it was a writing group until reading Claire Curtis’ article “The Rules of Writing Group,” in which she explains the rules of a writing group, including its ideal size: three people.
I was instantly reminded of high school.
I was blessed with a few really good English teachers in high school. They liked their job and wanted us to improve. And they loved the concept of “peer editing.” Frankly, I also loved the concept of peer editing, except for the fact that I didn’t trust most of my peers to edit my papers. The same struggle found in group projects – one person works harder and better than everyone else and ends up doing most of the work – showed up in these “peer editing” sessions. My teachers worked hard to facilitate good conversation and edits, but there was always a discrepancy. I would hand back a paper with detailed red markings. They would give me a paper with a few marks and a “this paper is really good!!” scrawled at the end. How was I supposed to improve if I couldn’t get either honest feedback or the feedback of someone who knew what they were talking about?
Thankfully, I had two best friends. And they both wrote. Well. So, senior year, we formed an informal writing group. Whenever we had papers to turn in, we would do the necessary “peer editing” process, and then we would share our papers with each other.
It was ideal. We each had our strengths and weaknesses, but we filled in each other’s gaps. We could be honest without hurting each other. There was no worry that the person editing your paper didn’t care because we wanted each other to succeed. True, we didn’t meet as a group, but the conversation in the group chat and in the comments section of the google document was live.
This commitment to excellence is what I look for in a writing group because it’s what I look for in friends. It’s not about perfection – heaven knows I shared plenty of b.s.-ed rough drafts – but about improvement. I need to know that the person tearing my paper to shreds does it out of love – for me and for the product.