Join a Writing Group!
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
July 2019
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
July 2019

This guest post was written by Susan Z. Ritz author of A Dream to Die For

Like many women authors, I have always considered writing a communal art. That’s why I have been in a writing group for over twenty-five years. As with many other auspicious encounters in my life, I found the group through my dog walking connections on a snowy day in Montpelier’s Hubbard Park. My terrier got into a friendly tussle with another dog, and while talking to the owner, I discovered we were both writers. She asked me if I wanted to try out for the group. I brought my very first short story, which was well received, and I was accepted.

Since then, writing group has become one of the most important parts of my life, giving me a bi-weekly writing deadline and a supportive audience. It’s also a place to share publishing woes and wins, to complain about hard times, and help each other with the key ingredient to success—perseverance.

Many members have come and gone over the years. Several have published their books and moved on, others have dropped out for lack of time, changes in life circumstances or changes in writing needs. But several things about the group have stayed the same because they work.

For most of the years, we have met at my house every other Tuesday evening. We loosely follow Peter Elbow’s (Writing Without Teachers) guidelines for constructive criticism. Each member brings a piece she has been working on to read aloud to the group. When she is finished, we go around the table, offering our comments and suggestions as the reader listens silently. She is not allowed to argue or answer questions until everyone has had her say. Though I often find it hard not to speak while my work is being critiqued, I know the silence rule gives me space to absorb the suggestions without being defensive or responding in the moment. This process has taught me to be not just a better listener, but also a better writer because I learn so much from looking closely at the others’ work. In fact, I learned everything I know about writing fiction from this group. I could never have written A Dream to Die For without them.

Sometimes I look back and am amazed by the number of books we have produced This stack is only half of what we have published. Quite an accomplishment, if I do say so myself.

 

Books: A Dream to Die For by Susan Z. Ritz; Where a Wave Meets the Shore and Deceptive Cadence (Book 1 in the Virtuosic Spy series); Shadow Girl by Deb Abramson; Water Shaper and Alia Waking by Laura Williams McCaffery; The Shape of the Sky by Shelagh Connor Shapiro; Trigger Warning and Feminist on Fire by Coleen Kearon

When anyone asks what advice I would give a novice writer, I always say, “Join a writing group!” If you’re lucky enough to find one as good as mine, you’ll find yourself taking risks, exploring new territory, and discovering your own depths. For me and for many women, the daily isolation of the writing life can lead to self-doubt, procrastination and getting stuck in a rut. A writing group is the perfect antidote.  By sharing our work, our successes and failures, and our fears and hopes, we help each other face that blank page knowing we are not alone.

Susan Ritz grew up in Minnesota, but she left home to become a wandering scholar; she lived, studied, and worked as a social worker in Kenya, Japan, Singapore, and Indonesia in the 1970s. She worked as a human rights lobbyist in Washington, DC, during the Carter Administration before moving to Dachau, Germany, the setting for her memoir in progress, On the Edge of Dachau. For the past thirty years she has lived with her husband and three children in Montpelier, Vermont, where she has worked as a fund raiser, events coordinator, and philanthropic advisor for a wide range of nonprofit organizations, especially those promoting economic equality for women. Writing, however, has always been her passion, and after receiving an MFA in creative nonfiction from Goucher College, she began writing for local publications, teaching creative writing to adults and high school students, and working on her first novel, A Dream to Die For.

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Comments
  • Hyba Writing

    What a lovely, motivational article! I've also been on the hunt for a good writing group for some time now, and seeing all the work this writing group has been able to accomplish is truly inspirational.