Study Guide

Bird by Bird Part 3, Chapter 21

By Anne Lamott

Part 3, Chapter 21

Writing Groups

  • Anne Lamott, like millions of other writers, says a huge aspect of successful writing is doing it every day, and another huge aspect of writing involves whatever happens as writing material.
  • As you're going about writing, you sometimes want feedback and some people to talk to. So, you might join a writing class or go to a writing conference or something.
  • Lamott says there are lots of realistic reasons to go to a writing class or conference. These include: 1) Wanting to learn more about writing. Yep. Sometimes these things are pretty basic. 2) Wanting some feedback now that you've been writing. 3) Wanting to hang out with other writer types. 4) Wanting someone to sympathize when you get rejection letters or have tough writing days. 5) Wanting to give feedback on other people's writing because it helps you learn about writing in general. 6) Wanting reasonable feedback from people who aren't your pals or your editor but will have good ideas.
  • These are all fine reasons, Lamott says. Some people, though, go to these things because they hope they'll be discovered by a famous writer or powerful editor and rocket instantly to fame.
  • That isn't very likely. It's not impossible, but it's not really something writers should expect.
  • Lamott also warns writers that classes and conferences and workshops can feel a little scary. Someone might be really tough on your story, or you might worry that this will happen. She tells a story about this and gently recommends not to rush into conference critiques until you're ready.
  • But Lamott also suggests a good way to get started on getting feedback if you're not ready for conferences: start a writing group.
  • Some of Lamott's own writing students have started writing groups, and they've discovered a few advantages to being in them. For one thing, they have to get something written because another meeting is coming up. For another, they have others to talk to when they have bad writing days. Writing group friends can offer empathy and kindness when they're having a rough day.
  • Sounds great, huh? Lamott even has ideas on actually getting a writing group started. You can sign up for a creative writing class, then ask people from the class who seem cool to join a writing group. You can stick ads in small newspapers or on bulletin boards, which has worked for many of Lamott's students. Some of Lamott's New Age friends claim that just "putting it out to the universe" (21.21) will work. Lamott seems a little amused by this approach, but she says every single one of those friends wound up in a great writing group, so who knows?
  • Then, Lamott describes a group of four students she had in class who went on to form a writing group that has lasted four years at the time of writing. Lamott says they've genuinely become better writers and better people through the group, which is a pretty good advertisement.
  • Then, Lamott tells a great story about how those writers help each other out when they're stuck. It's a pretty solid ad for finding a writer's group.

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