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Group dynamics

March 28, 2012

A group is more than the sum total of the individual members.  We each have our own strong personalities and assume roles within the group that contribute to its overall character. We became more conscious of how important group chemistry can be when some members left and others joined. Although four of the original members remained, the character of the group shifted significantly as new members made their own contributions.

This shift in character was neither good nor bad but we realized that we needed to think hard about how we contribute as members and how we can shape the character of our group to make it supportive yet productive.

The main benefit of our writing group is having the support of critical readers to help improve our work. But we’ve had to learn the difference between behaving like literary critics and acting as supportive colleagues. Because we are all keen readers as well as aspiring writers, it’s hard not to treat first drafts as though they were Giller Prize contenders!

We’ve struggled with many approaches to reviewing each other’s work to provide respectful but useful feedback. Our current practice is to ask each writer to provide a context for the review piece and to indicate what kind of feedback she would like. For an early draft, she might ask for overall comments about plot or character. For later drafts, she might want specific feedback about word choice or a particular character or scene. At the meeting, the writer listens and takes notes while we discuss the questions she raised, and highlight what works well and what needs work.

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