woman in green shirt sitting on books
E,  Happiness,  Writing and Reading

My Writers Group, My Word Nerds

It took me a long time to become willing to be part of a writers’ group. Frankly, I’d heard some fairly awful things about them. I had heard such groups could be competitive and repetitive. That some groups were more in love with the idea of writing than getting anything done and that those meetings sounded more like a roomful of angsty teens than a bunch of grown-up word nerds trying to help one another improve.

[bctt tweet=”A bunch of grown-up word nerds trying to help one another improve…” username=”AndreaPatten”]

Whenever I’m trying to get better at something, I seek out people who are striving to improve a similar skill set or someone who is far more accomplished and willing to share expertise. And, while I always hope to find people with a passion for improvement and excellence, I loathe the expression “like-minded.” When I’m trying to learn new skills, or I’ve backed myself into a corner, I can be impatient or hard on myself. I don’t want or need a mind like mine. I need fresh eyes, different experiences, humor, and compassion. I need my very own word nerds. The ones who love me and have got my back.

I made some false starts before finding my group. I attended some critiques that bordered on mean and others that appear to have been fueled by lollipops and rainbows. I’ve been asked questions by (usually male) newbies who proceeded to argue and mansplain my answers away or treated like a kindergartener by a facilitator. And there were groups that didn’t recognize my genre and people who believe that “real” writers limit themselves to longhand, legal pads and lead.

[bctt tweet=” Do real writers limit themselves to longhand, legal pads and lead?” username=”AndreaPatten”]

A year or so ago, a mentor of mine questioned me about my efforts to find a writers’ group. His experience had been wonderful and, not only did he want to understand my tenderness around the topic, he also wanted me to experience the growth that can come from participating in a good group.

I decided to pursue a new genre and joined a group as the member with the least experience with that sort of work. After attending a few meetings, they asked me to read. To my amazement, they listened attentively, respected my boundaries about the kind of feedback I wanted and encouraged me to keep going.

Today’s meeting was inconvenient. I hadn’t read the facilitator’s materials or found a segment of my work to bring for critique. Early this morning, I did a public presentation on an unrelated topic.  My husband is hours away from some big, disruptive travel, and my son’s home decided to develop “issues” while he is somewhere at the other end of the country. I was hungry, over-tired, unprepared, it was raining again… and I was shocked. I couldn’t wait to get there.

As it turns out, everyone who showed up was in the same boat for different reasons: grant deadlines without cooperation from grantees, house construction delays, family member illnesses, returned-to-the nest adult children. Stuff.

So we tossed the agenda and talked about our stuff. Then we talked about some new and exciting projects. And awards we had applied for and conferences we were attending. And, eventually, after having each experienced one? We talked about character arc. And we laughed.

Let’s connect on social media.


  • Lore Raymond

    Appreciating your transparent sharing of how you felt on this journey to find writing support. Like you, I checked out ONE critique group at a Barnes & Noble and left halfway through–the blood letting was too much! Not for me! So I decided to put on my big girl writers’ panties and DESIGN and DELIVER my own writer’s group. That was 11 years ago; we’ll celebrate 12 years of gathering in September. A coach encouraged me to start this group even though I had JUST put on my writers’ mantle. Sounds like you have an ahhh-some coach, too.

    Happy that you found a safe and fun place to be and write, Andrea.

      • Lore Raymond

        The best is yet to come!, Andrea! How many attend? We range from 4-9 though we started with 12-15. I enjoy the smaller size as our writing time with 3 prompts and feedback on everyone’s pieces can be longer…and so it’s often more meaningful as we mine our gold.

  • Kelley

    Thank you for sharing your process Andrea. Being willing to share your writing in a group is a vulnerable process but so empowering when you find a good fit. I am part of a few writing groups and am deeply grateful for the structure and support I receive. I love that your group is flexible enough to shift focus when needed to make space for what truth is arising!

  • barbparcellswritingalife

    My only experience with a writing group was a bunch of people in a dark, dank basement who just sat there and wrote together in silence, then read what they wrote and criticized each other. It was about as inspirational as mud. I’m thinking of starting one for pew hi really want to write and grow, not attack each other.

    • Andrea

      Barb, that sounds awful! Except for the occasional exercise, this group doesn’t write when we’re together. We alternate between a learning module one month and a critique session the next. People are free to use the learning module as a basis for writing something to bring to the critique session or can bring something else we’re working on. Recognizing that we are all in different places in the process helps each of us be specific about the kind of support or feedback we’re looking for.

  • Sheila Callaham

    The last year I lived in Chapel Hill, I coordinated monthly writing workshops. I always learned so much from hearing other writers talk about their processes, whether it was fiction, nonfiction, flash fiction, poetry, whatEVER. Since moving to Texas, I haven’t had the gumption to jump into anything. Perhaps this fall so I thank you for the encouragement. 🙂