As food bloggers, we all find ourselves in a writing slump from time to time. Today, Dianne Jacob tells us how she benefited from being part of a writing group, and how we can be part of one too.
A few years ago, I stopped writing anything but blog posts for Will Write for Food, my blog aimed at food writers. I was in one of those negative periods where I wasn’t happy with my writing.
You know the ones. That’s when you decide you’re not good at your work and you give up for a while.
But then I wasn’t happy either. Tamping down my need to write just made me more frustrated. So when a neighbour invited me to join her writing group, I leapt at the chance.
The most important part of joining this group was the bi-weekly deadline, which forced me to produce. I didn’t want to show up with nothing and look like a loser. So every two weeks, I gave members a personal essay to read.
I submitted up to four drafts of one essay. Members didn’t mind. They understood that writing is basically re-writing, and that it takes time to figure out what you want to say and to hone the piece. Eventually that group disbanded, but I enjoyed it so much that I started another.
Why To Start a Group
Being part of a writing group gave me the discipline to write regularly. I’d like to think I’ve learned from the feedback too — that I’m a better writer as a result.
Just as important is the amount of encouragement and praise I’ve received from the members. Writing is a lonely occupation. Having peers give me external validation has also helped me take more risks to get published.
Here are two food-related essays I’ve had published online since joining the group. The first one won two national awards.
- The Meaning of Mangoes, in Lucky Peach
- The little egg device I’ll never get rid of, because it reminds me of Dad, in The Washington Post
So if you’ve been procrastinating about blogging, or if there’s something else you want to write besides a blog, or if you want to improve your writing, start or join a writing group.
Here are a few different kinds of writing groups and how they work. For the first few, you take the lead and start a group. For the last one, you pay a facilitator to involve you in a group through prompts.
Form a Peer Group that Meets in Person
This is my favorite, because I get to see people I already like, and find new relationships. In the best possible case, you’ll gather other food bloggers in your geographic area who want to connect and improve the quality of their writing.
Otherwise, find peers who work in non-fiction narrative or memoir. That’s what food blogging is all about anyway: telling personal stories.
If you don’t mind strangers, use meetup.com to generate leads, or put up a flyer in independent bookstores or coffeehouses. Five is a good number to start.
We meet every two weeks at someone’s home. For my first group, members were self-employed so mid-day meetings worked well. For the second group, it’s best for one person if we meet in the evening. We switch off between two houses.
For your first meeting, ask each writer to discuss his or her goals. Some people want to jumpstart their writing. Some want a safe place for feedback. Some write for their own pleasure and some want to be published. Make sure each person is ready to contribute.
How you organize whose work will be read varies. Our group sends each other work before the group meets, and then we go over it all. One person gives feedback at a time. Sometimes we all chime in at the end to discuss how the writer can move forward.
I’ve heard of other groups where they review only one person’s work at a time. This is especially good for book-length work, where a writer will send 20 to 40 pages for review. This way you can give the work the time it deserves. The downside is that it might take a month or longer to get feedback on your own work.
Our group starts with a check in, where writers talk about their writing life in the past two weeks. It helps us to find out about each other and offer encouragement.
Each person gives feedback. Don’t be afraid of it. Feedback, when it’s done right, helped me understand what I was trying to do with a piece. You might feel apprehensive about showing your work to someone or criticizing it, but most people are kind. Constructive feedback is where they say things like, “I’d like to see more of you in this story” (meaning you were telling a story about someone else and it needed to be grounded in me me me), and “What is this story about?” (meaning the story is currently about too many things and needs more shaping).
Your job as the person giving feedback is to critique the writing, not the writer. As a participant, try to be quiet and take notes. It’s hard not to be defensive, but best if you don’t speak up.
So even though it might sound unnerving, joining a writing group will amp up your production and produce other benefits as well. Here are other ways to start or join a group.
Create an Online Writing Group
Meet virtually with other writers who have a writing goal, want to write more often, or who want to improve their writing. Set deadlines for work distributed through email.
Meet through a conference call service to critique work.
Find One Fellow Writer and Set Goals
Find just one person who has a writing goal, and be accountable to each other. Set goals and deadlines about what kind of work you want to share and how often you want to meet deadlines. I’ve tried this once, where it started well but then we lost the commitment. I think it’s easier to let things slide with only one partner, unfortunately, rather than being part of a group.
Meet with Other Writers in a Café for a Writing Practice
Meet with other bloggers where, after a quick check in, everyone works on her or her own project on a laptop, in an atmosphere of support. Emma Christenson details how her group worked here.
Join an Online Writing Camp
One of the members of my writing group loves online groups. She’s a weekly columnist for a newspaper and a blogger. She joins for a period where she has to write every day. They’re not food related, but they are about writing personal essay, which is the nature of most food blogging. So if you get a writing prompt about love, you can still write about food. Here are the two she loves most: Slipper Camp and Ready to Write?
No matter what you choose, you’ll find that joining a group pushes you forward with your writing. It could also lead to writing opportunities that members tell you about, and to writing things you’ve put off or delayed for a lack of support. If you’re waiting to write more regularly, a group is a sure-fire way to get going.
Jumpstart Your Writing With a Writing Group was written by Dianne Jacob, a multiple award-winning writer and author. Her book on food writing, Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Memoir, Recipes and More is in its third edition and has won three international awards. She has co-authored two cookbooks: Grilled Pizzas & Piadinas and The United States of Pizza. Her essay, the Meaning of Mangoes, won the 2016 grand prize for the M.F.K. Fisher Awards for Excellence in Culinary Writing, from Les Dames Escoffier. Previously a newspaper, magazine and publishing company editor-in-chief, she coaches writers on getting published. Sign up for Will Write for Food, her blog aimed at food writers. Follow her on Twitter @diannej and on Facebook.