The Writer as a Social Animal
Luíseadh Morgenstern

Writing is a lonely job. So said Steven King (possibly channeling Ernest Hemingway, who said something very similar).  And it is, on the whole.  There’s you, along with your computer (or notebook and pen if you prefer the old fashioned way), with no company other than the voices in your head.  Let’s face it: there is no avoiding that.  If you want to be a writer, you have to write, and except for the occasional collaboration, writing is a solitary activity.  But you don’t have to be entirely alone .
Enter the Writing Group
I’ll be honest, whatever their lofty aspirations, a writing group is first and foremost a social club for writers.  It’s an opportunity for writers to get together and talk about writing.  In my opinion, that in itself would be a good enough reason to join one, but let’s look at what other benefits there can be from joining a writing group.
Imagine, you are working on your epic novel and you hit that low point where the words just won’t come. It’s all in your head, but for some reason you just can’t get those thoughts and images to translate into the written word.  Your fellow scribes in the Writing Group will offer you suggestions, ideas, support.  You may not decide to follow their advice, but the simple fact of other people urging you on can be the catalyst you need to break that writer’s block.
Practice skills
Writing exercises can be just for fun, but even then they have a valuable bi-product.  They get you to practice writing.  The beauty of writing exercises set by someone else is that they take you out of your comfort zone at times.  Imagine you are a science fiction or fantasy writer, and the writing exercise calls for you to write something around historical romance.  Once the panic attack has subsided, you realise that what you are actually doing is expanding your expertise, honing your writing skills, stepping through that door marked ‘here be dragons’.  What you produce may not be great fiction, but often being put on the spot can tap into a hidden well of creativity you never knew you had.  Writing exercises can also have a serious aim of improving certain skills and techniques: practicing your dialogue, experimenting with tenses, points of view, improving your descriptive prose.  You also get to practice reading your work aloud: often the best way to check whether a scene works or not is to read it aloud, and a writing group gives you lots of practice in this.
Critical feedback
Having someone go through your work and offer detailed feedback is an uncomfortable experience at first, but something as writers we have to get used to.  Having this done in the safe environment of a writing group can help you thicken your skin ready for when you first put your work out there in the public domain.  It can help you tighten up your story lines, check for inconsistencies, sharpen your dialogue.  A good critique will also highlight the best parts of your work, so that you also know what you are doing right.  It is so much less daunting if this process starts with someone you know and trust from your writing group.  Oh, and you get your grammar and spelling checked as well.
Generating ideas
Many of the best stories produced by members of the Notts Writing Group have been inspired by writing exercises done in the group meetings.  You might not use the exact idea that was introduced in the group, sometimes it’s just a word or a phrase that starts the creative juices flowing, but saving all the work you do in the group gives you a pool of ideas that, if you find yourself struggling for inspiration, you can dip into at any time you like. 
Publish a book
So you think you’re ready to unleash your work on the world at large.  But you still have some doubts, uncertainties?  Collating an anthology of short stories by members of a writing group means you share the anxiety and the pain but also the joy of seeing your work in print (or online if you choose an ebook).  The Notts Writing Group’s “Stories in Sandstone” was produced for exactly this reason: several members of the group wanted to get something published, but did not yet have enough material for a book of their own.  An anthology is a great solution: a selection of stories by different authors, different genres, different styles, but with a common theme to pull them all together.
These are just a few of the benefits of joining a writing group.  There are many, many more, dependent on the group and how it chooses to operate.  But to go back to my first point: a writing group is also a social activity and takes away a lot of the loneliness around writing.  And if you hold your meetings in a pub, there’s always good beer as well! Bonus!
Check online to see if there are any groups in your area.  If not, do what we did, and form your own.  All you need are a few interested people, a venue and a passion for writing.  Of course, if you live in or near Nottingham, you could always join us.
Want to join the Notts Writing Group?
Just send an email to [email protected] and one of us will get back to you with details of the next meeting and how to meet up with us. Or maybe you just want to know more about our group and how we operate. We’ll be happy to answer any questions.  We look forward to hearing from you.