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How Writing Grows In a Group

Do you ever write in a group as well as on your own?

I tend to be a solitary writer, with the occassional dabble into writing in the company of others for workshops and classes.

Spending a week with other writers in Sardinia gave me the chance to experience what happens when you write more regularly as part of a group.

(Although I was supporting and facilitating the retreat I also took part in the exercises as a participant.  The reflections below are based on that participant perspective.) Come Away In by Joanna Young on flickr

Timed Exercises:

We did a  number of timed writing exercises, 15 minutes at a time.  It was fascinating to see just how much we could write in what appeared such a short period of time - and what good quality it was too, even at the first, unedited, cut.

I was also aware of the way my mind was starting to adjust to the 15 minute time frame, and anticipate the prompt, the challenge to get it down.  Even if I’m doing them on my own in the immediate future, timed exercises are definitely getting added to my regular writing practice list.


The dynamics of a small, supportive group meant that we got to know each other’s writing, and the stories, the lives, that lay behind the words.

This helped to create the space for thinking and reflecting, for bouncing ideas off other people who were interested in your work and ideas.

The act of writing is only part of the process.  Working with others who can help you think out loud is invaluable.


The combination of timed exercises, intelligent company and challenging prompts proved good for the muse.

Those of you following my progress here will be proud to know I dipped my toes gently into the waters of fiction (admittedly just a couple of random contributions to Alina Popescu’s vampire novel, but still, it’s a start ;-) ) and found short poems materialising, day after day.

Reading my work:

This was a bit of an eye-opener for me.  I really enjoyed reading my work out to a group.  I hadn’t realised quite how much until they kindly pointed out how much I was throwing myself into the reading of my work.  I think this is partly because of the rhyme and rhythm I enjoy in writing… Whatever it was is, it’s fun :-)

More of it:

I got so much from the experience of writing and reflecting with a group, I’m definitely going to create opportunities for more of it.

Both groups that I can write in and as part of, and opportunities for others… including you, maybe?… to write on your own and together as part of a group.

If you’ve written as part of a group before, how did you find it changing your writing?  Is it something you’d like to do more of in the future?

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  1. Ulla Hennig
    Twitter: ullahe

    Some years ago I did a creative writing course at the Free University of Berlin, and we had to write short stories from one week to another. Some of us (we were too many for everyone to read our work out to the group) presented their stories. I did it once, too, and was very anxious. It was quite a strange feeling to share my story with other people. I got a wonderful feedback, though.
    So I am also interested in learning more about how to create opportunities for group writing!
    And I am definitely looking forward to your poem!

    Ulla Hennigs last blog post..Someday maybe or: what do You really want to do?

  2. Barbara Ling says:

    Nope, never did that myself at all. But my oldest daughter is participating in a group writing experiment and it’s really giving her creative ability wings.


    Barbara Lings last blog post..Glee

  3. Jendi says:

    I’ve never done a live group, but I’m participating in an online internship and there are some similarities. It’s definitely a growing process.

    Jendis last blog post..We Will Accomplish a Mini Goal This Week

  4. Lindsay says:

    I, too, have found that writing as a part of a group is ultimately rewarding. My first time was in a college creative writing class where, every week, we had to either read our writing out loud in front of the class or in small groups. Yes, there is something about reading one’s work out loud that was empowering as I found myself unexpectedly enjoying it. Sharing in this way gives substance to writing and it allows everyone to benefit from the comments made.

    Currently, as a teacher, group writing and sharing is an important part of my classroom. I think it benefits writers in the following ways:

    1. It increases their motivation to produce quality work if they know it will be shared in a public forum.
    2. It allows them to infuse a sense of voice in their writing, as they discover how rhythm, variety, and sentence structures add meaning to a piece read out loud.
    3. It allows students to become more confident and, in turn, the writing becomes more confident.

    Lindsays last blog post..Online Citation Generators: Friend or Foe?

  5. Naoko says:

    I took part in a workshop organised by the British Council not too long ago about writing and delving deep into the emotional psyche. Not only did I look forward to reading my work aloud, the timed sessions and the sharing, but I was shocked to discover that my words, read aloud, carried far more power. In fact, all our words when read aloud, carried far more emotional power than I thought possible.

    It was also surprising just how much power these raw words had unedited, when given proper guidelines. Who knew a simple prompt about names would have led to such interesting discoveries?

    I’d like to do more of it in the future, but perhaps not too often. Writing in a group’s fun, but ultimately for me, it’d be too addictive till I might forget how to write when I’m alone.

    Naokos last blog post..Introducing Cibai!

  6. Paul says:

    Hi Joanna,

    It’s brilliant to hear that you and your writing have benefited so much from Sardinia. I have to get me out there! ;)

    I think it’s also great you are chewing fiction over and enjoying the taste more and more but the best news for me in this post is that you are going to post one of your poems.

    Naoko’s comment mentioned a deep delve into the emotional psyche. This is what poetry is to me. Our thoughts, intentions, feelings and everything else it is possible for us to experience turned into something that the voice (and the heart) can sing out loud.

    Sometimes we need a group to help us to know what our voice really sounds like. I know I do! :)

    Go Joanna!

    All my best,


    Pauls last blog post..On Preparation & Your Career

  7. Conor
    Twitter: ebbstachio

    Hi Joanna,

    Great to hear the retreat opened new doors in your mind. I always think if there is even one new actionable lesson, it’s worth the time :)

    I am a solitary writer for the most part too, but I have collaborated on a few songs in the past. You really have to leave your style and process at the door when you open up to writing with someone else. This was a great lesson for me, opening my mind to many different ways of idea generation and fermentation.

    We often barricade ourselves in with tried and tested ways of writing but I would fully recommend opening yourself up to writing with someone else, or a group. It forever changes you, for the better.


  8. J.D. Meier says:

    > timed exercises, intelligent company and challenging prompts
    That’s a great recipe for success. Time and again. It’s a beautiful blend of motivation, skills, and feedback.

    J.D. Meiers last blog post..Don’t Always Go for the Long Shot

  9. wilson says:

    Joanna, there’s a huge different when we’re writing in a group than all by yourself! First of all, we must learn how to co-operate with other group’s members, as teamwork is the main aspect when we’re in the same group!

    Let’s take an example, would a football team managed to win the cup, if they neglected the teamwork and plays as a sole-player? Well, I never been in group writing before, but if I have the chance, I’ll try it out…

    wilsons last blog post..It’s Not a Wise Method To Cool down Yourself Immediately After Exercises!

  10. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Sorry for the lateness of replying to these comments everyone!

    Ulla it is a weird mixture of anxiety and buzz isn’ tit? I will keep you posted on the possibilities

    Barbara that must be wonderful for you to watch :-)

    Jendi hello and welcome - the online internship sounds fascinating, thanks for letting us know

    Lindsay thanks so much for sharing those perspectives. They match very closely with my own experience, but I think you articulated it much better than I managed to!

  11. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Naoko gosh that sounds fascinating - the workshop, the power of the words, what happens when you read together out loud. I agree, the experience has the potential to convey a huge amount of emotional power. I love your comment at the end about it being too addictive though! ;-)

    Paul I’m definitely in poetry exploration mode at the moment - funny how at odd moments in our life that is precisely what we need to turn to. Very intrigued by your last comment… and glad you’re getting used to the sound of your own voice.

    Conor yes, I gained a huge amount from the experience, even if not all of it what I was expecting. Perhaps all the better because of that :-) And like you say, it proved a great way to open our minds up to new possibilities for thinking, writing, creating…

    JD I love the way you can analyse what lies behind some of the things I’m talking about here!

    wilson yes, learning to work together, and get into each other’s rhythms was a very important dimension. I hope you to get to try some group writing too sometime soon

  12. Alina Popescu
    Twitter: alina_popescu

    Oh, yeah, I definitely remember how your voice would change while reading! As for the poems and ideas for my novel, invaluable!

    I have to say this has been my first experience of writing within a group. And I now believe every writer needs such an experience. What one needs to make the best out of it is an open mind and an open heart. And that’s it! :)

    Alina Popescus last blog post..Monday Reading Roundup Take #26

  13. Planning in the Sardinian Afterglow says:

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  14. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Alina I agree, we should all experience this some time. I like the simplicity of your advice to approach it with an open mind and open heart :-)

  15. Karen Swim
    Twitter: karenswim

    Joanna, I too tend to be a solitary writer but my one and only group writing experience was life changing. I was part of a team for a client project and it required storytelling. Trish Lambert hit on the idea of having group writing sessions. She facilitated and led us through timed exercises. I was surprised at how much could be written in 15 minutes and more surprised that I could not only tell a story but loved doing it. Although I don’t naturally gravitate to group writing, it is definitely something I would like to try again.

    Karen Swims last blog post..Authenticity, Transparency and Poetic Musings

  16. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Karen so sorry I jumped over this comment before. I read it and thought about it, then forgot to reply. Your experience sounds fascinating. Like you, I was amazed at how much we could do in 15 minutes. Definitely have to try again sometime soon :-)

  17. Danielle Ingram says:

    I’ve not taken part in any group writing workshops myself, but through my experiences at work and at university I have found that having others to bounce ideas off definitely increases the quality of my writing, even if it is just to ask whether there is a more suitable word than the one I have chosen. I guess two heads are better than one!

    I also think that my writing improves when I am around others, particularly when I know that I am going to have to either read it out or show it to them, because I am a human and it is human nature, I guess, to show off a little!

  18. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Danielle I think you’re right, we respond well to the stimulus of others, especially when it’s a supportive and constructive environment. I’d also agree that it’s human nature to show off a bit, even for writerly types ;-) Thanks for stopping by and sharing your perspective, it’s much appreciated.

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