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What if there were a tool that would simultaneously help you be more accountable, give you inspiration and support, give you feedback on your writing, and provide structure to your writing routine? What an amazing tool that would be. Whoever invented it would surely be a zillionaire. But it sounds way too good to be true. Or does it?
In fact, there is absolutely such a tool out there. It really does exist. And it’s called the Weekly Writing Group. Without question, this humble tool is responsible for more productivity, more companionship, and more great writing than any other thing I can think of. Unfortunately, many writers have yet to embrace the weekly writing group.
In today’s episode I’ll talk about the many reasons I love the weekly writing group and how you can start a group of your own.
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Trevor Thrall 0:01
Welcome to the Get your writing done Podcast. I’m Trevor Thrall, author of the 12 week year for writers. If you enjoy today’s episode, please consider submitting a review wherever you get your podcasts that really helps. And for weekly updates on the podcast and other writing resources, you can subscribe to my newsletter at get your writing done calm. What if there was a tool that would simultaneously help you be more accountable, give you inspiration and support, give you feedback on your writing, and provide structure to your weekly writing routine. What an amazing tool that would be whoever invented it would surely be a zillionaire. But it sounds way too good to be true. Or is it? In fact, there absolutely is such a tool out there, it really does exist, and it’s called the weekly writing group. Without question, this humble tool is responsible for more productivity, more companionship and more great writing than any other thing I can think of. Unfortunately, many writers have yet to embrace the weekly writing group and for good reasons. In today’s episode, I’ll talk about the many reasons I love the weekly reading group, and how you can start a group of your own.
As an academic, I have kind of taken for granted over the past couple of decades, the benefits of the collaborative nature of the research process, until I started talking with more writers over the past couple of years, people who don’t have jobs in institutions as writers, but people who are independent writers, whether independent nonfiction writers, writing for their businesses, or independent fiction writers writing novels and whatnot, in, you know, as their side hustle, or even as their main, their main hustle. But what I didn’t fully appreciate was that, for many writers, the benefits of having a weekly reading group are not obvious, because they’ve never, they’ve never had one. Whereas I’ve sort of been steeped in group work, because of the nature of the research process. And so today, what I want to do is just kind of, I guess, you know, promote the concept of the writing group and how incredibly powerful it can be. Because one thing I have learned over time is just how useful having these groups is. And, you know, I can confidently tell you that if I had not met on a weekly basis, with my various and sundry co authors and collaborators, I just never, I cannot see how I possibly could have gotten all the work done that I have, nor could I have had any fun doing it. It’s so much more fun to have people engage with you and to engage with them in their work along the way. So So today is kind of my love letter to writing groups. And some steps for you, if you would like to form one, just some things to think about as you’re doing that. And of course, we’ll talk a little bit about some of the challenges that come with being in writing group as well. So, you know, in the book, I talked about this, but But it’s important enough that I don’t think you can ever talk about it enough. There are many, many reasons why writing groups are so powerful for writers. And I think the first and one of the most important ones is its impact on accountability. And we all know how hard it is to hold ourselves accountable, even to the things that we really want to do you know, that we’re trying to get a lot done in life and, and keeping yourself keeping your feet to the fire. To follow through on all your different projects in life is difficult. And I think writing is one of the most difficult. So, so one of the things that writing groups bring us is a really powerful tool for amplifying accountability. And let me tell you a quick story about the power of groups that I learned and doing research for the book. And it comes from the medical world. So the the incidence of you know, heart disease in America is very high, as I’m sure everyone knows. And you know, if your arteries get to blocked you end up having to go in for bypass surgery. So they unclog your arteries not a pleasant experience. recuperation is miserable. And after you get done with a surgery, the doctors will tell you in no uncertain terms. If you don’t want to have a heart attack and die. You better change the way you eat because you’re clogging your arteries up with too much plaque. So you need to eat low fat, you know, all that sort of stuff. And so you would think having been given this warning that people who have just gotten bypass surgery would would straighten up and fly, right? Unfortunately, that’s not what the research has showed, in fact, just about 10%, of bypass surgeons, sorry, surgery recipients are still living clean two years after their surgery. So within two years, 90% of these patients have stopped eating better, and behaving in a way that’s gonna actually let them live longer. Which is kind of shocking. If you think about it. Enter Dr. Dean Ornish, who I am sure many of you have heard of, from the diet and nutrition world. And he had a theory about eating healthier, and how to how to, you know, do this sort of thing. Right. And so he had a program that was a one year long program. And there was, he did this study with a several 100 people who went through it, and they went through this program for a year. And then they measured how these folks did after, and three years after the program had ended. 77% of the group, were still following the new lifestyle guidelines.
That’s an incredible jump, right, seven, almost eight times better results than the standard experience with patients who’ve had bypass surgery. And you’re asking, Well, what the heck magic was in there. And you know, there was different parts to the program, most of which were sort of similar to anything else, we’re going to give you some more nutrition information and diet and psychology and all this other stuff. But the big difference in Dean Ornish, his approach was that these people also met in groups with each other twice a week, that whole year with a psychologist and talked about the situation talked about their diet, how they’re feeling about all those different things, right. So this group, who met every week, with their peers, talking about their journeys, 77% of them succeeded in sticking to this lifestyle change by three years afterwards, whereas in the other case, 90% have fallen off the lifestyle wagon within two years. So to me, that speaks volumes about the ability of groups to amplify accountability, and, you know, get results. When we look at accountability and writing groups in particular, I’ve seen throughout my writing career, several important ways in which groups help people hold themselves accountable. And the first and simplest is that, as humans, we’re social creatures, and most of us are kind of programmed to want to look good for others. And so most of us want to come to writing groups with our work finished so that we can report successful and productive week behind us. And in cases where you’re actually collaborating, or where what you’re doing is part of, you know, the group’s process. You know, not letting the team down is another sort of social goal for most of us. And so those things provide additional, you know, accountability sort of mechanisms in our in our brains, in addition to just our own desires to hold ourselves to the goals we have set. And then I think another key piece to the accountability equation is the fact that because the weekly writing group serves as another form of deadline, each week, even if it’s not the deadline for the writing, you know, maybe that was a few days before, but that’s when you’re going to present the fact that you did or did not hit your deadlines and all your goals. The fact that we are always keeping those deadlines in mind keeps us in accountability for mindset, it keeps us in accountability mode, when you’re continually reminding yourself that you promised your self and maybe others you are going to do something, it helps keep us accountable. And so I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve heard people tell me that they have gotten things finished, right before whatever group meeting they had. And it’s for this reason that there’s kind of a a accountability amplification to to the group meeting, you know, sort of flow. And so I think most people who attend regular reading groups will agree 100% that they are far far more likely to follow through on the different tasks they set themselves, when they know they’re going to present their performance at a group meeting. Just simple as that.
The second big benefit of writing groups is motivation. And, and this is quite distinct from accountability. Now, you know, the language sometimes can be confusing. If if, you know, having a deadline motivates you to hold yourself accountable, where’s the is that motivation is that accountability? What I mean here by motivation is your enthusiasm for continuing and working on your writing project. We all go through ups and downs of motivation, that’s natural. In some ways, there’s nothing you can really do about the fact that some days you’re on fire for things. And other days, it’s hard to get a bed, but in but in, but that having been said, you absolutely can structure your life in a way that keeps your motivation relatively high. And for me, I know, and I think this is true for many others, meeting with other people is one of the best ways to stay motivated. And I think the reason behind it is, again, as social creatures, for humans can, enthusiasm is contagious. Motivation is contagious. Healthy Habits are contagious, when we see them, we want them. And when we see someone else who’s enthusiastic, it’s like somebody sharing their light with you, you don’t, you don’t have to steal someone else’s to get energy, right, when you see their energy, your energy is revved up, and you’ll come out of a meeting with other people hearing them reporting on their projects, and how excited they are, and how they’re moving forward. And this is just going to give you energy to do the same. And it’s a fantastic positive spiral, because you come excited about something, you get them excited, they get excited, you get excited. And this is a incredibly virtuous cycle, that, you know, a writing group helps set in motion, I cannot tell you, for me in particular, as as the older Professor member nowadays, in these groups, since I do most of my writing with graduate students these days, you know, I’m the older, I’m the oldest person in the room by quite a bit. And, and what I’m, you know, what I’m benefiting from, is the fact that I have typically 20 Something, students who are new to the business who are perhaps working on the first project that’s going to get published in their careers, or, you know, early on in their careers and their excitement levels are through the roof, and their enthusiasm for going the extra mile to check on some data or to track down another citation or to read another source to see if that’s where the critical information is. It is inspirational to me. And, you know, you get a little less inspired by doing something the 400th time, so it’s not natural. But I can see it through new eyes, when I am in community with my graduate students. And so for me, that has been a tremendous, tremendous boon. And my sense is that this is not an unusual thing is is just what happens when humans come together to share the things that they’re passionate about, this is just the normal thing that happens. So it’s not like you have to programming or figure out how to make it happen. This is this is just what happens when people get together to share. Closely related to that is a third huge benefit of reading groups, and that is mutual support. Nothing is more useful for helping you pick yourself up after a tough rejection, or a difficult conversation with an editor or a mentor or an advisor or whoever a boss, whoever had something critical to say about your work, for example, which is a scenario all of us are in numerous times as writers over life over life. And, you know, dealing with those things on your own, it’s possible, you know, but there are also a lot of unhealthy ways that people who are alone might choose to deal with those things. You know, I think we’ve all been there you know, dark thoughts, people drink, they do, you know, other silly stuff. A healthier way to deal with those things is to you know, find a supportive group whose role is to help process those things. You know, I know from my wife’s experience in graduate school, for example, she she had a couple of different writing groups that met every week, and in particular the she had a small group of women who were all working on their dissertations
at one point and and these are all students who are in fact dealing with their their PhD advisors and they’re trying to get their thesis proposals approved, they’re trying to get their sort of theoretical frameworks figured out and, and at that stage in your, in your writing journey, you’re taking a lot of heat from your professors because you’re not doing it right yet, it’s not good enough, they want to see this, that and the other thing. And, you know, if you’ve ever talked to somebody about a new germinating project in the early stages, when you’re fragile, it’s fragile. And taking criticism can be brutal at that point. And this is on top of the fact that, you know, we’re talking about students here, some of whom, you know, are nervous about whether they’ll even be able to accomplish to finish an entire dissertation. If any group of people need support, its writers in that kind of a situation. And that is precisely the kind of support that my wife’s group gave to each other. You know, I think there were four women in the group. And if one of them came in, and had just had one of those kinds of conversations or feedbacks from from a professor, they were able to help that person process, kind of grapple with it, except that there was some useful stuff in there. And that maybe any of the other stuff is not personal. Yeah. And just all the, it’s all the things you need to do to kind of generate that resilience, and to find that grit inside yourself to keep going. Again, as social creatures, you can try to do these things alone, but you’re not going to be as effective as if you have a group supportive group. So I, you know, especially if you are new, if you have been stuck, if you have had sort of an emotional up and down period. And you are in a place where you find it difficult to deal with setbacks and stuff, like, especially if you’re in that kind of situation, a reading group is going to be a huge boon. But even if you’re not right, even if even if you’re, you know, going along swimmingly. The fact is, is that there are still going to be bumps in the road, and you’re still going to want us support. And moreover, if you’re in a good place, you can be a very positive support for others. So, so support is, I think, just another fantastic reason to be part of a weekly reading group. A fourth great reason to be in a group is learning. We learn from each other, even if you’re just a group of peers, we can learn we’re all we all have different strengths, we all have different tools that we bring to the game. And, you know, that’s just a phenomenal way to expand your own toolkit is to hang out with other writers and to see how they do their stuff. And shamelessly borrow and steal all the good stuff. I have a long history of doing this. And one of my favorite stories that I mentioned in the book about this is when I was a young young, just about I think I just got my PhD or was just getting it just finishing. And I was an adjunct professor, and the senior colleague in the office next to me, very famous political scientist, and he had a research group of, I don’t know, five or 675, or six graduate students, PhD students.
And they were working on a co authored research paper. And I asked, they would meet in this little room that was just because of the weird configuration of the offices. There was actually a door from my office to this conference room directly, which was really strange. But, but at any rate, I said, Hey, Mike, since you’re there, you know, next to me anyway. And I’ve never been part of one of these groups. Could I see how you run it? He kind of just, you know, join your join your group every week as a sort of a shadow, and just sort of see how it goes? And he’s like, Yeah, sure, fine. And man, oh, man, did I learn a ton from that, but But what I learned was how much the graduate students were learning. They were part of a writing group, where, you know, Mike, as the senior professor would ask them all, what do you guys think the next steps should be? And they discussed those sorts of things. And they agreed on all of them. Every week, he would ask each of them to update the group on on their part that they had been tasked the week before. And they would just be they were so full of excitement. And here’s what I found. Here’s what I think it means. And they would all discuss that. And, you know, they were pretty clever grad students. So there wasn’t a lot of No, you’re wrong, or no, you’re wrong. But but where there were sort of points of emphasis or elements of sort of guidance and mentorship that Mike could could offer, he would do that. But what I learned, not only did I see that they were all learning how to do research, at the level necessary to be a professor. That was one thing they were learning. The other thing they were learning was how to be good group members to how to be good add collaborators. And for Mike whether they knew it or not. I was doing it explicitly, but they were probably doing it implicitly, as they were learning how to eventually run those groups themselves, because they would all become professors at some point, and eventually be running groups of research students themselves. And so they were also learning in, in retrospect, that one of the most is just one of the most impressive, impressive performances I’ve ever seen. He Mike was just so good at this. He was so confident in his students, and he was so so mild, and gentle and guiding discussion. And their excitement was just so high. And, in fact, they did end up publishing this article in that top flight research journal, which was just a really cool cherry on top for what had been a phenomenal group process. And so whether or not you have a coach or a mentor in your group, you’re gonna learn from each other about how things are done, and getting to watch someone else, write a novel, or write a dissertation, or whatever it is up close and personal, you are going to learn so much, I always joke with my wife that she got a PhD in Sociology, but I must have at least a master’s, because I had to watch her do it and talk her through it, you know, as she’d learned things and would bounce them off me and tell me new things she’d learned, I feel like I got a masters at least out of that. And you’re gonna feel the same way in your writing group, you’re gonna, you’re gonna have, you’re gonna draft off the experiences and learnings of all the people around you. It’s an intense and wonderful thing.
Alright, fifth piece that you can get from weekly writing group is feedback and or constructive criticism. You know, unlike just a standard accountability meeting, which is great. You know, you just show up and tell people how to do and, and, you know, you just trade stories about, you know, the troubles of getting things done in life, that’s super useful, and that’s great. But for writers, having a writing group full of writers is really important. Because, you know, sure, accountability is kind of a general thing, that’s fine motivation, support, you can think of those as general things. But learning from other writers and getting feedback, in particular feedback and critique from other writers is something obviously, you can really only get from writers. And so, you know, if all, all that’s available to you is a non writer or two or three to have accountability meetings with, that’s better than nothing by a lot. But if you can meet with writers, the scope, the possibility for having a greater scope of that group, and it being even more useful to you is much greater. And so I’ve seen, you know, writing groups, full of writers, writing the same general kind of genre probably works best. So like, you know, PhD students in the same field, or using the same tools or methodologies, fiction writers, writing the same genres, maybe things like that, these are folks who can be sort of maximally helpful to, because they can read your stuff, and, and find the flags. And, you know, keys that are things that for you, in particular, will be useful to improve your writing. And, you know, I know for, for me, for example, that everything I have written has benefited from feedback and critique. And, you know, as an academic, there are many stages along the way, before something becomes a publication in a an academic, peer reviewed journal. Typically, my own writing group will read multiple, multiple drafts of things, then you’ll maybe offer this as a conference paper where you look at more peers to go through it, and then you’ll have anonymous reviewers at address. And at every stage, it gets better and better with the feedback. Now, you know, there’s, there’s helpful feedback, and there’s not very helpful feedback. So we’ll talk about that in a bit. But, but in general, you know, As iron sharpens iron one, one writer sharpens another. And there is there’s really no better way to get better at writing than to get a lot of feedback on what you’re doing. So that’s the fifth, the sixth piece. And the last one I’ll talk about, to try to convince you how great writing groups is, is structure. Writing groups provide phenomenal structure for your week. I think this might be the most underappreciated element or benefit of the writing group. But one of the crucial things that having an anchor in your week, like a writing group does is it is it actually provides structure to the rest of your week as well. It’s because of the fact that it sits there as a deadline as a social forcing function, if you will. And because you you tend to want to get things done for it. It’s going to have the effect of sort of reorganizing your weak it whether you realize it or not. And the way I figured this out actually wasn’t reading group. I played rugby in college. And when I joined the team, and I’ve told myself before that I was the world’s least organized student. And that was certainly true throughout college, but, but when I joined the rugby team, my junior year, something funny happened. So all of a sudden, rugby practice was two nights a week. And we had games which took up all Saturday, and taking that much time out of my week. And you know, those things became the anchors of my week, and everything else had to kind of move around them. In particular, what that meant is that I had less time to do my homework, and my reading and other things that would tend to happen at nights or on Saturdays. And the curious thing was, and I never would have guessed this is that the rest of my week became more organized, because it had to. So it wasn’t just that, oh, I started doing my homework, it was a little more than that, it was that having those times blocked out meant I then had to shift and be more efficient with the time that was left. And then because I had to be more efficient, it turned out that that actually had the effect of making me more productive during those times. So I’m not gonna say I was super productive and organized. I was not. But that gave me the insight that hmm, sometimes if you structure it has knock on effects, that can create greater efficiency and productivity. And that’s what I’ve learned is exactly true with writing groups. And so you know, a lot of people joke about how terrible meetings are, the meetings will continue until morale improves. And I’m not going to argue, I think meetings are awful, you know, paperwork, meetings, meetings about bureaucracy, you know, all sorts of corporate meetings are, I would guess, a lot of them a waste of time. Writing group meetings, however, are different.
Writing group meetings, to me, help structure your brain and help structure your week. And if you also use your writing group meetings as writing dates, in other words, you actually also use them to write, maybe you do some accountability and sharing of updates up front, and then you do some kind of writing for an hour or two, or whatever it is, after that. This can be part of what helps you structure your entire writing routine. Because you know, as I talked about in a previous podcast, one of the things we all need to have is a steady writing routine. We write at this time, these days, all the time, so that we are steady and consistent in our productivity. And we can sort of bank on our ability to get writing done. Well, having a writing group meeting is like a really important linchpin, or anchor in that kind of system that can help the whole thing go, that can help right you, you put yourself, you put the writing date, or the writing group on the calendar that’s on Fridays. And all of a sudden, that means that Thursday, Wednesday, Tuesday, Monday, the Sunday before the Saturday before, all sudden, you sort of have to dues now on all those days that are more obvious, because you want to be able to go to that reading group report success. And so it makes every group reading session before that important, and so on. So I have I have come to believe that the only way that many projects get done is that there are regular meetings, they create the forcing function, they boost accountability, and they help structure people’s weeks so that they know when they’re going to be writing, they know where they’re going to be writing at a higher level than they would have before. So in a nutshell, accountability, motivation, support, learning, feedback, and structure, six phenomenal reasons that you should be in a writing group. Now, how if you’re going to form a writing group, how do you do it? And you know, hey, it can be as simple as asking a couple friends, you know, hey, do you want to meet every week and talk about our writing? That’s a great start. Nothing wrong with that. But if we’re going to be a little more deliberate about it, just to make sure it’s as useful as possible. I think you can kind of think of a few steps in the formula. And the first is to figure out what’s the scope and purpose of the group that that you want to start? Because you can, you can start small and get bigger over time, or, you know, it’s going to depend on what your own interests are. But, you know, at the most basic level, you can meet with other writers just to hold yourselves accountable for getting your stuff done. Or you can use this group as a way to write in a social setting. So a lot of people enjoy writing near other people in a coffee shop or at somebody’s house or whatever it might be pandemic willing. And find that out. Adding writing dates is a really great way to add, you know, a certain chunk of writing that you just know is going to happen every week. So, you know, you can be just accountability, you could add the writing. And you could also even, you know, add sort of coaching, mentoring, learning to this, if that’s the kind of you want where you are, you will seek out someone who can kind of be a leader, and, and help. And again, this is going to depend on where you are in your writing journey. Are you going to try to offer each other feedback and critique? Or is this just a, you know, a group where you’re getting together? So those are some questions that I think are really useful to ask. There may be, you know, some situations where you might actually want one group of people who are great to write with, and that’s fun for you, your friends, maybe right, all sorts of different stuff. Maybe a different group is your group for critique. Right? So, so don’t don’t be shy form two groups, if you have the time and inclination. And so that kind of leads naturally to the second question is, Who do you want in your groups? And how many people do you want your group, and I think that’s a, again, that’s a tough one, that’s going to depend on your own personal preferences, and what you want out of the group, there are pros and cons to small and big, sometimes small, as beautiful, because you might know each other better, you can have very high levels of trust,
fewer egos, and personalities to kind of balance in the room and so on. On the other hand, a big group can be wonderful, because you have more eyes on, on any given problem to discuss, you’re going to get sort of the crowdsourcing will be better if you’re trying to figure out, you know, brainstorm strategies, and so on. If, if you’re having people read your stuff, if it’s the same two people all the time, you might find that you already know what they’re gonna say. And it’s not as useful to get feedback from the same two people all the time. So you might want a bigger group, and so on. And frankly, even just from a simple logistics point of view, if your group is only two people, or three people, and someone can’t make the meeting one week, there’s no group. And so that’s not very useful. I’ve certainly been there when when I’m working with maybe one co author, and that’s the writing group for that paper, when when one of us can’t do it, there’s no meeting that week, which can, you know, bog things down considerably. So, so you have to figure out what, what the right balance isn’t. And the only thing I’ll say on that is starting small, and it’s easier to add than it is to ask people to leave. So that’s the only thing I would note there. And then, you know, you want to start to figure out once you sort of are assembling each other, what are the sort of structures and processes that you’re going to want to use, you know, who’s going to organize it, who’s going to host it, or who’s going to do the communicating, and you know how this goes, every group, every PTA group, every club has, its people who tend to do the organizing, and if if it’s your group, and you’re comfortable being in that role, wonderful, if that’s not your strength, if you’re not that person, you know, maybe you need to find that person who you trust, who is that person, and kind of be, you know, be the be the other force behind the scenes, having the, you know, getting the group set up. And that sort of relates to another piece, which is sort of setting expectations and norms for your group. This is really important. And, you know, of course, every group is going to evolve over time norms evolve over time. That’s kind of what they do. But for really important things, I think those are really key for getting on paper early, instead of letting them evolve. So for example, you know, how do you want to deal with feedback and critique? Those are fraught sort of processes? Do you want people to be blunt with each other? Do you want people to be gentle Do you want? How do you want to deliver? Critique? That’s a particularly big one. How consistent Do you want to insist that people be with attendance, this is a big one, right? If we’re, if we’re doing an accountability group, you want people who are going to show up every week, if you have a big group, and you’re just doing it to be social, and you just need some bodies there, then maybe you don’t care so much. So those kind of things are important, so that you’re not disappointed, you know, a month into it, but how it’s going. And then, you know, the last logistical piece, of course, is when and where are you going to meet? And, you know, what will you do if people can’t go What if you miss holidays, you know, all those little things, just to make sure that this is, you know, this is your group, you make it how you want it, right. So, again, I mean, forming a group, we’ve all done it. I think there are some things to think about to make sure you get it right, but it’s not the world’s most complicated thing to do. Just start doing it and you’ll figure it out. As you go, I think that’s probably the the best rule of thumb
challenges. So a lot of people don’t have groups. And the reason for some is that there are obstacles, I guess you would say, to forming groups for many of us. The first one is that it can be hard to find fellow writers, peers, who are the kind of people you’d want to be in community with. Not all of us inhabits a setting where writers are around every corner. You know, I happen to be an academic setting where literally every office door opens onto a person who’s writing for a living, and writing this kind of stuff I write. So it’s pretty easy to find people to write with. Not so for people who write fiction in Idaho, or Michigan or wherever, right? So finding the right people is a challenge. And, you know, I think the answer to this easier said than done, is to go where the writers are. So the internet is a godsend. There are many, many watering holes online now. And, you know, it requires not being shy, and which is a hard thing for a lot of writers, of course to do. But social media, writing community out there is thick on the ground in all the different social media. And and I think, you know, if you put yourself out there a little bit and let it be known that you are interested in starting a writing group, my guess is that you will have some contenders. Second, second big challenge, I think, in why a lot of us don’t start a group or don’t join a group is that it can be, especially at first, it can be emotionally challenging to join a group. Many of us are nervous about sharing our work. And ironically, it can be even harder to share that work with our peers, with fellow writers, people who we know, no good writing. And we’re, of course, naturally worried that people are going to judge us poorly. I don’t tell the story too often. But I’ll I’ll tell you, since you’re all friends, I had terrible imposter syndrome when I was in graduate school. And when I was just finishing my PhD, I, I wrote a conference paper that that I had was originally pretty excited about. And then as it got sort of closer to finished, I wasn’t so sure about it anymore. And then by the time the conference rolled around, and I was actually in Chicago, at the conference, I realized in a panic that I thought it was GARBAGE. And the worst thing was that the panel I was on the the chair of the panel and the person discussing the papers and sort of providing kind of critique to a roomful of political scientists, all of whom were older than and more advanced than I was, of course, because I was whatever, 20 something. At that point, I realized I had zero confidence, my paper and the last thing I wanted to do was to talk about in front of these people and then get destroyed for it a few minutes later. So guess what? I didn’t go to the panel, terrible breach of conference etiquette, and completely cowardly. And the funny thing is, I then later, buttonholed the chair at a at a cocktail event later and apologized and made up some lame excuse. Why didn’t go? And he’s like, oh, yeah, I want to talk about that. Yeah, it was it was pretty good. Yeah, I need some things here. And then, you know, it wasn’t so bad as I thought it would have been a good conversation. I should have done it. But. But bottom line, this is exactly why people don’t form reading groups, is they’re worried that they don’t have what it takes their worry, their writing isn’t any good. I’ve been there. You’ve been there. We’ve all been there. But as I’ve, as I’ve said, in other places on the podcast, and as I continually tell my own students who are grappling with imposter syndrome as they tried to become political scientists, it looks a It’s human. We’re all going to be nervous about sharing our work, especially early on when we’re not sure about it. When we don’t know if it’s going to come together the way we sort of hope and see in our minds, when we’re sure that it’s not well, you know, all well laid out yet. It’s not done. It’s not perfect.
is hard, hard, hard to share at that point. But what I tell my students and I will tell all writers is to get used to writing in as transparent a manner as you can share your mess. And the phrase I like sort of best is to fail early and fail often. Except that it’s hard to swallow that feeling me or whatever you call like embrace that feeling. Share anyway because Here’s the interesting magic that happens when you share early, when you share it really early, share one sentence about what your book is going to be about. That’s easy. I mean, all you’re doing is sharing a sentence you’re not, you know, they can’t judge your whole life on a sentence. But you get a little feedback, and you go back and then offer a paragraph, and you get some feedback. And then you end the offer page, and you get some feedback. And meanwhile, people are actually giving you great ideas to improve that paragraph and to improve that page. And when you get feedback at that stage, you can actually use it, because you haven’t created the whole thing yet. And you haven’t become wedded to it yet the way it is. And you haven’t gotten ornery about getting criticism. And right, so failing early feeling often sharing the message getting comfortable with that, because the great thing about that is by the time you finish the manuscript, by that point, you’ve gotten enough feedback and enough criticism, constructive criticism along the way that you’re feeling really confident about the final product. And, and you should, because it’s going to be really a lot better for having gotten all that feedback. Well, that’s, that’s my sort of story about how to embrace the writing group and the fear of writing group, because we all have it, we’re all nervous about sharing our work. We’re all we’ve all grappled with imposter syndrome. And the perfectionism that can kind of accompany that, where we’re not willing to share anything until it’s, you know, just absolutely perfect. But the problem, of course, is that not many of us can make something that’s absolutely perfect. In a vacuum, most of us need feedback in order to get our work to where it needs to be. And so writing groups are fantastic for this, but it does require getting over that emotional hump. And so my, my strategy there, aside from sort of trying to embrace sort of lean into that, like writer, Warrior style, feel that feeling and realize it’s not going to kill you, and move forward. But the other thing is to start with a small group of people that you really trust, and, and build from there, it’s never going to be probably the easiest thing to share your work in front of strangers, of course, until you’re really confident in it. But with a small group that you can trust, then I think, you know, it’s much more doable. Another strategy along those lines is to form a small group, and then build trust before you start sharing, right. So share the things that feel comfortable, and ease into the sharing of things and so in, don’t make yourself do it all at once, put a toe in and share bit by bit. And when you find that it’s not, you know, it’s not hurting, it’s not killing you to do that, then you can kind of continue to to grow in your comfort in that way. I think you’re kind of related to that for many writers. You know, we’re introverts, we like being alone. We like doing things ourselves. And we don’t always have an easy time, Judah cating, and grappling with the different egos and personalities that come with the writing group. Yeah, totally understandable. And again, this is kind of why it’s important to handpick the people that are in your group if you can, or to at least make sure if those are issues for you that you know, you, you do what you need to do to, to, to compose a group that that works for you. Sometimes in those cases, actually having a somewhat bigger group can be easier, because it’s you don’t have to deal one on one with people so much. And then the last reason, of course, that people don’t, is because they think they have a busy schedule. And I reject that I disagree. I don’t think you’re too busy. If you’re too busy to have a weekly reading group, I think you might be too busy to write period. I think that’s how important writing groups are. So So I hope I’ve convinced you that a writing group is probably a very good idea. I hope I’ve given you some thoughts about how and what kind of group you might start on. And if though you are not at a place where you have the wherewithal or kind of capability to
make a group of your own. I’ll throw in a quick pitch for my coach led weekly reading group. I have few spaces left, and a couple of my reading groups, and we meet every week on Zoom. And we hold ourselves accountable for our writing, we share our progress reports and our updates. And we brainstorm our way through the challenges that we’re facing. And we often then also have time to discuss various sort of issues relating to writing and I’ll often provide some sort of a few coaching tips along the way. And it’s my effort to replicate this wonderful group that I saw many years ago, in a sense, where, where, where I can help people create the tools and structures that help them become productive writers. That’s one of the most favorite things I get to do in my life. And so I have a blast at these meetings. They’re full of incredible writers. And so if you are looking for a writing group to get you started, and this is a great place by the way to find people to then graduate from my writing group and go start your own, so if this might be just the thing you were looking for, okay, guys, until next time, happy writing.