Writing Groups

Almost all serious writers have a set of trusted readers with whom they share their work in progress. We need people who can tell us where our prose is working and where it isn’t, what draws their attention and what bores them, what we might cut and what we might add, what other lines of thought we might pursue, and the like.

Writing groups are a popular way of staying on track as a writer and getting responses to your work in progress. The one crucial rule of a writing group is that everyone in it must bring some work to each meeting. Everyone writes, and everyone reads and comments.

You are required to work in this course as part of a five-person writing group. I insist on this both because I want you to get a wide range of responses to the writing you do this semester, and because I hope you will come to see how participating in such a group might support the work you do as a writer beyond this course. Students in past semesters have consistently singled out working in their writing groups as one of the aspects of this course they most enjoyed and learned from.

I’ve set aside five of our class meetings for writing group workshops. I will assign people to groups at the start of the semester. We can reconfigure them around midterm, if needed. I will also provide you with a kind of loose script for how I would like you to respond to one another’s work-in-progress—both in writing and in workshop. There’s a lot of room for improvisation in both scripts, but it’s important that you stick to their basic outlines. I’ve designed them to make sure that writers have the chance to ask for particular kinds of feedback, to hear what is working in their essays, and to hear what their readers feel they needs most to work on next.

Each of the writings you share with your group will count as a revision for this course. I will expect it, that is, to be a piece that you feel some real commitment to as a writer, that you are looking to do more work on. Other than that, it is entirely your choice what piece you want to workshop with your group, and how many times. Indeed, since there are five workshops scheduled over the term but only three final essays required, it’s likely that you will workshop several drafts of some pieces. The writing groups are meant as a resource for you to use as intelligently and well as you can. I hope you find them useful!

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