A review of Writing Alone, Writing Together by Judy Reeves

Writing groups can provide all sorts of benefits, from stimulating us to write new material in new ways, helping to improve our writing, encouraging our efforts and teaching us new skills, not to mention the camaraderie and pleasure of sharing our writing with other like-minded writers. Reeves’ latest book Writing Together, Writing Alone provides a comprehensive guide to finding. forming, managing and making the most of writing groups.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Writing Alone, Writing Together:
A Guide for Writers and Writing Groups
by Judy Reeves
New World Library
October 2002, Trade Paper, 192pgs
ISBN 1-57731-207-4
RRP usd$14.95

If you’re anything like me, you tend to write alone, privately, showing and sharing nothing until the work is complete and ready for submission. While there may be something to be said for spending any spare moments writing rather than talking about writing, it may not be the best thing for the work in the long term. According to writing group maven Judy Reeves, “if we’re alone with ourselves for too long, our focus gets too narrow; our view too introspective. We sense a need within, a yearning for connection with others.” (19) Writing groups can provide all sorts of benefits, from stimulating us to write new material in new ways, helping to improve our writing, encouraging our efforts and teaching us new skills, not to mention the camaraderie and pleasure of sharing our writing with other like-minded writers. Reeves’ latest book Writing Together, Writing Alone provides a comprehensive guide to finding. forming, managing and making the most of writing groups.

Author of the exceptional A Writers’ Book of Days and experienced writing teacher, Reeves knows her material. She has participated extensively in writing groups of various kinds and started two of her own as well as a literary arts organisation. Anecdotes from Reeves’ experience and from other participants’ pepper the book. The book begins with a chapter on writing alone, including some of the key points from A Writers’ Book of Days such as setting up a special writing space, making time to write everyday and the writing of regular practice exercises. Even writers who attend groups regularly will write alone some of the time, so this is a good opener, but the real heart of the book is contained in the chapters about the three types of writing groups. In clear accessible prose, Reeves addresses how to identify what you want from a group, choosing the right type of group, how to be a good participant, how to deal with participants who upset the group’s dynamics and how to set up your own group.

Each of the three group types – Read and Critique, Writing Practice and Workshop Groups are covered in detail, as well as chapters on interacting with the wider community and using online groups. Throughout the book are personal reflections, heady quotes from famous and not so famous writers, insights, ideas, guidelines and exercises. There are also some very handy checklists for things like finding the perfect group, knowing when it is time to move on from your group, elements of a good critique (very useful for reviewers too) or structuring the perfect workgroup. Although Writing Alone, Writing Together is not a very long book, Reeves manages to squeeze a tremendous amount of information and inspiration in, through the use of sidebars and lots of examples and very clear and targeted text. Despite its clarity and “how-to” approach, the writing is rich in imagery and metaphor:

Like tossing wildflower seeds upon a random hillside, it’s difficult to determine who might flourish in the unfettered atmosphere of a writing practice group, or to define what kind of writers would be attracted to such a gathering.(92)

If you are even thinking about joining a writers group, wanting to start one of your own, or have simply reached a plateau in your work and are in need of inspiration, support and.or companionship in this otherwise solitary path, Writing Alone, Writing Together is an essential guide.

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Writing Alone, Writing Together: A Guide…

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