Writer's Groups: The Importance of Being Earnest / by Kat Howard

Coming out of an intensive MFA program, you'd think I would have gotten all of my best feedback as a result of workshops. Well, that's only partially true. Towards the end of my first year, my writing advisor suggested that I form a writer's group with some of my peers to sustain us through out the summer, and keep the conversation going that we'd started in class. Luckily, I found two other women who were in The Craft of Poetry with me, and we decided to start up some informal gatherings. In our meetings we always:

-bring around 3 poems to share -present any books or collections that have inspired us recently -share publications we'd sent our work out to -discuss upcoming readings we can attend together -announce any relevant contests or prizes; opportunities in the field -vent about our poetic processes -tackle stumbling blocks in our writing -catch up on our real lives

Even though my writing group is small, the support and trust that I've developed with the other women has helped me find the strength to push through my projects, or leave them for the time being, and move on to something else. They help me figure out what it is I'm really trying to say, on the page, and in general, the feedback I get in our writer's group often is channeled in to my visual art, too.

The inspiration I gather from my fellow poets always sparks a creative awakening in me, even when I've gone in to the session not as prepared as I would have liked, or when I'm stuck within a poem, and I leave each meeting ready to dive back in. It reminds me each time why I write, and make art, like Anaïs Nin said:

We write to heighten our own awareness of life. We write to lure and enchant and console others. We write to serenade our lovers. We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection. We write, like Proust, to render all of it eternal, and to persuade ourselves that it is eternal. We write to be able to transcend our life, to reach beyond it. We write to teach ourselves to speak with others, to record the journey into the labyrinth. We write to expand our world when we feel strangled, or constricted, or lonely. When I don’t write, I feel my world shrinking. I feel I am in prison. I feel I lose my fire and my color. It should be a necessity, as the sea needs to heave, and I call it breathing.

I think the key to a successful writer's group, isn't its size, or how regulated it is, it's finding other writers or artists who really see what you're trying to do with your work. By surrounding yourself with people like this, they'll only help you to jolt yourself awake and see more clearly, through your writing, and if they're particularly good, they'll remind you each time why the page calls to you.