Having other people read your work can be terrifying, unless they're the right kinds of people. Some writers swear by writing groups while others keep their distance. Most English classes have some variation of this, commonly peer review groups. Either way, they all serve the same purpose - helping you improve.
I've been in my fair share of them for someone who isn't an English major. Most of my writing related classes for my Creative Writing minor have had some kind of peer review group, designed so that we work together to improve one or several pieces by the end of the semester. Some have been really great and others have been slightly less great. But over time, I've learned a lot about myself as a writer because of these groups.
The first time I was in a workshop group was during Intro to Creative Writing in my freshman year. It was an okay experience, but I think it would have been better had I known my group mates longer. I also had no idea what it was like to be in a peer group, having been homeschooled my whole life before college. Being with other writers was a good experience because I learned from writers who had different strengths than me, but it was also awkward because most of us were freshmen and still didn't know how to interact with other people about our writing.
Having never been in a writing group before, I didn't really know what to expect from it. There were other experienced writers with vastly different styles from mine, but our meeting times were mostly filled with awkward silence as we tiptoed around each other. Admittedly, that first experience gave me a rather negative view of writing groups in general and I couldn't really understand why writers liked them and authors encouraged people to find them.
Then, I was put into another writing group for a class during sophomore year. Fiction Writing was an interesting class all-around, but the best thing that came out of it was my writing group (picture below). Being in a group with Lindsey and Lydia was the turning point that made me understand why it helped writers and how other people benefit from having peers read and edit their work. It also built a great friendship that still exists to this day.
Lindsey and Lydia were great writing friends and group mates. They excelled in areas where I fell short and we were all able to help each other improve over the course of the semester. I will still credit them with a lot of what I learned that year about who I am as a writer and how to improve. By reading their work, I saw my own work improve because I saw how they achieved things I fell short in. Plus, we had great conversations about writing, reading, and life in general.
In the fall of my senior year, I was part of my final school-related writing group. It was for my senior seminar to finish out my minor, and I was grouped with three writers I had never worked with before. I'll admit that I wasn't too thrilled about the group dynamics, but it worked out fine in the end. I can't say that this writing group challenged me much, but I have to be honest that I wasn't turning in my best work during this time either. I had other classes that were more of a priority at the time, so I didn't have the highest quality of work to turn into this writing group. And because of the lack of effort on my part, I think my overall experience was hindered a bit.
In the spring, a few of my friends and I got together to re-start a writing group. We wanted something fun and on our own terms, with little pressure to have work ready for others to read. Most of it was about accountability because we all wanted to keep working on our projects and new ideas. We only ended up being able to meet once or twice in person before COVID changed everything, but we met a couple more times over Skype to catch up and talk a little about our writing.
So, after being in so many groups, what have I learned? The main thing I've noticed is that I work best with people I'm already friends with or whom I can develop good friendships with. The people I trust with my work the most are the people in the pictures above. They've seen me evolve over the years as a writer in many capacities, and they've read more of my work than anyone else. Maggie was my roommate during our sophomore year, so we had a lot of time to bond over writing qualms as we somehow took on NaNoWriMo in the same time we were taking Writing Fiction.
I've also found that I work best with people who are at similar levels of writing to me. That might sound weird, but I mean it specifically in the sense of experience with writing long-form stories. I'm not much good with short-form writing and writers, as it's a different approach to how tightly a story needs to be written and what is important. Knowing that my current group mates have also tackled several novels of their own makes it easier for me to understand where they are as writers, and also what they're seeing when they talk about my work. You might think this is obvious, but before this, I thought I could learn from pretty much anyone as long as they were a writer. While that might be true on a small scale, I've found that I need to be around other novel writers in order to do my best work.
The friendship is what I cherish most about being in these groups. I have people who understand that writing is hard on so many levels and that sometimes, complaining about it is the best way to feel like writing should take place. These are friends who have read at least one iteration of a few different projects and have continuously encouraged me to keep revising and keep drafting. If I ever need to talk to someone about my shiny new ideas or WIPs (works in progress), these are my people. And if I need people to read crappy drafts that make little sense, they've got my back.
As I move forward in life, I know that this is a writing group I'm going to stick with. We're friends outside of our writing meetings, and that helps us stay in touch and work together better. They're my Golden Group, and I wouldn't trade anything in the world for them. I have no doubt that they'll all become published writers at some point in the future, and I'll be here cheering them on when that happens. Because I know that we've got each others' backs when it comes to writing, and that's more than I could ask for in a writing group.