Whether you’re pitching a concept over email to your boss, working on a personal statement for an application, or scribbling in a personal journal, you write on a daily basis. Often, the quality of your writing is key; it can be the make-or-break factor between your stories or thoughts being compelling and understandable. Students and peers ask me on a regular basis how they can tangibly improve their writing ability. I strongly disagree with the notion that one needs a 6-week intensive course or a $2000 workshop to be a good writer. Whether you are interested in sending better cover letters or becoming the next Rick Riordan, my answer is the same: try a writing circle.
Usually when people hear the term writing circle, their minds jump to creative or fiction writing. However, writing circles can be as casual as groups of individuals who meet a few times a month to share whatever writing they would like to with each other and get feedback on it. I’ve seen a variety of sizes and frequencies, and work spanning from journal reflections to essays to love letters.
But why are writing circles effective? Here, I put forth some axioms.
1. Structure yields product
I’m misquoting the words of Uncle Ben here, but with great responsibility comes great power. Deadlines and intentionality encourage you to actually put words onto paper and start getting the juices flowing. Your group holds each other accountable to not only spend time thinking about improving writing, but also going through the active improvement process with each other’s pieces. Weekly prompts (which can be easily found online) are also a helpful tool to try techniques you would simply not have tried before.
2. Revision yields gold
The fact of the matter is that the first time you write something, it is not the best it could be. Your first draft will always benefit a revision. I promise, this is independent of how ‘good of a writer’ you are. From medical school application essays to the poetry book I am publishing this spring, my writing always becomes more concise and cohesive after another set of eyes takes a look. In the writing groups I have been a part of, asking each other simple questions about intended meaning and sharing takeaways, observations, and what we liked/disliked about the writing usually produces valuable food for thought.
3. Analysis is a muscle that needs to be flexed
The more time you spent thinking about writing in a complex way, such as in a writing circle, the easier and faster it will be to start revising and improving your own daily writing independently too. Even the best writers can get rusty or hit a writer’s block, and in those cases taking time to view and be inspired by someone else’s writing is mentally refreshing.
4. Giving and receiving sensitive feedback is an invaluable skill
Everyone has different tastes and stylistic tendencies. Appreciating and navigating that in a writing group is a fantastic learning experience for future times working in a group or team at school and in your career. You will always be receiving or giving feedback in any role you find yourself in - there’s a reason feedback-giving is a common job interview discussion point!
5. Everything is better with friends
You can build very strong relationships through sharing things that are vulnerable or personal, as writing often is. The network that can emerge from a writing group is also very beneficial – I had no idea that joining one would lead to me being able to publish my own work through a word-of-mouth recommendation. I encourage getting some friends together to start your own or find some of the many that exist through your school or social media.