How Being Part Of An Online Writing Community Made Me A Better Writer
December 14, 2018
Like most closet authors, I used to dabble with different forms of writing which just went to roost inside a private folder. There was no sense of direction or urgency, just a burst of creative intensity which came at certain moments without any impetus- only sporadically did I choose to translate my inspiration into words. For me, creating a piece of written work which had the potential to interest or inspire others was an innate skill which just couldn’t be acquired. It was around this time that I came to know about Bound through some friends who had attended their Goa writers’ residency program. I was absolutely astounded by the difference in their writing style post this program and was intrigued enough to follow Bound on Facebook and Instagram. So when the opportunity to join their new initiative, an online writing community called The Writers’ Lab (which was in collaboration with The Curious Reader), came up, I felt it was the right platform for me to finally take the plunge.
The community promised ample opportunities for creative expression, masterclasses by leading experts, and feedback by peers as well as experienced editors from Bound and TCR. It seemed to me that here was a group of people who were committed to nudging their fellow writers to re-evaluate their own work. Furthermore, being part of this group would give me an opportunity to network with other amateur writers without being judged. Writing short essays, based on 30 prompts over 30 days, sounded like a tall order but I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could bring myself to write on a regular basis. Of course, I was beleaguered by self-doubt and, ironically enough, at the same time by the fear that I may not live up to the talent that I thought I possessed. I am sure most budding writers, like me, have wondered that if all that they’ve written is better off tucked away in a journal rather than made to stand bare in front of a group of total strangers, awaiting their judgement.
I couldn’t bring myself to submit my response to the first prompt and waited to see what others had written. It was quite a revelation to read people’s submissions – the sheer honesty, talent and their willingness to put themselves out there surprised me. With trepidation, I wrote my piece on the second prompt in a single sitting, all the while trying to still my inner editor from breaking the thought process. This was really close to my heart as it spoke about life with a close friend who turns out to have more than just a fair share of shades of grey. I felt that writing without worrying about the style or ‘correctness’ of the piece gave me the chance to bring in hidden nuances and unacceptable thoughts, minus the burden of making it look perfect. After I posted it, I was greatly encouraged by the feedback given by some of my peers and the group administrators.
As the days continued, there was a sense of immediate gratification in giving my own twist to each of these cues. It was even more incredible to witness the uniqueness with which other members of the writing community responded to the same thought, and the objective analysis provided to them, which in turn, guided my own writing.
The masterclasses on the weekends were superb, with each expert bringing in different facets of the writing or publishing process in their sessions. These were complemented by related online resources that the administrators posted through the week. Some of the essential elements of the craft that I learnt were how to show vs. tell, how to begin writing, which creative tools to use and how, ways to create a character and plot, and most importantly, the importance of revisiting a draft multiple times and editing or even rewriting it without any resistance. The biggest change was in my attitude towards the writing process as a whole and an acceptance that I should consider alternate beginnings and endings, or even be willing to experiment with the arc of the story from a different viewpoint as it could greatly enrich my piece.
The only flip side for me was that most of the people weren’t aware of the correct way to give feedback. Some of them just posted likes (I plead guilty to this as well) without sharing what element of the story was particularly evocative for them or gave generic feedback which wasn’t always too helpful. Many a time all of us ended up negating the important aspect of giving feedback altogether as we were more focused on our own submissions. Maybe it should have been made mandatory to put in authentic responses, howsoever brief, to at least two pieces a day. Furthermore, I think the feedback giving process, as well as the quality of feedback, would have greatly improved had the administrators done a session on Liz Lerman’s critical response process prior to starting the prompts. When I came across articles on this technique, I found it a great way of putting the writer in control of the feedback process while still getting useful inputs.
Now that we have ended our 30-day journey, I realize how much being a part of a writing community has helped me come out of my self-imposed shell. At times, when I missed writing based off a prompt, I felt that it would have been nicer to have a day’s break so I could catch up with my own writing and give other people the feedback they deserve. But conversely, it also drove home the lesson that a writer needs regular and dedicated time to develop her optimal potential. I feel that this forum has delivered much more than it had promised in every manner. Most importantly it made me realise that there are no shortcuts and one has to keep writing in spite of the crazy exigencies of everyday life.
Thanks to the Curious Reader and Bound for bringing in this opportunity and demystifying the writing process. I feel extremely privileged to have been a part of this initiative and pleasantly surprised by my own evolution through this journey. Happy writing all!
Rachna is an avid reader and traveller- she loves exploring new places and connecting with like-minded individuals from diverse cultures and backgrounds. Travelling to mofussil towns across the breadth of the country has humbled her as she has found the most extraordinary stories and inspiration in the most ordinary of circumstances. However, her ultimate idea of luxury is to curl up with a good book over a cup of coffee and simply be. She manages a global initiative for a diplomatic mission in New Delhi called “English Access Microscholarship program”, which is a recurrent two-year program for socio-economically disadvantaged youth in India. You can follow her on Instagram, here.
I absolutely loved what you’ve said and it holds true for me as well, although i’ve published here and there, and have been writing for a fairly long time. The thing is, having also attended innumerable writing workshops, i’ve come away enriched. Each one has inevitably helped better my writing, helped understand where i repeat myself and how to declutter the narrative. Reading you, and you do write very, very well, brought it all alive. You’ve confessed to many of the pitfalls we all face and have faced, so candidly. Do keep writing Rachna.
Thank you for this balanced piece on your experience with a writing group. I’ve just joined one, and am excited to start participating. Writing is a lonely process, not just emotionally but intellectually — it’s hard to get enough distance from your own writing to evaluate it with anything approaching objectivity, In this regard, the feedback I’ve got from friends who are even casual readers alerts me to things I simply wouldn’t have noticed myself — or would’ve noticed only after a long gap.
I wholeheartedly agree with your reservations about the type and depth of criticism. When you’re just beginning to write, or to get published, It’s tempting to approach a group selfishly — which defeats the point. I’m guessing people who do stick with groups soon realise that to get the most out of writing groups — or anything else in life — one must construct and maintain a two-way street.
I checked out Bound’s site. I will apply for their next outbound workshop after the pandemic settles down.