Karen Desrosiers, Laurel Lloyd Earnshaw, Charlene Pollano, Deborah Regan, and Susan Wereska,
A Group of One's Own: Nurturing the Woman Writer (Story Line Press, 2003)
"Author Elizabeth Berg says, 'There are groups that are all one sex; and there are those that are mixed. I have been in both and find that although a man's point of view is of great value, I prefer, and tend to profit more from, all-women groups.'" from the back cover
The authors of A Group of One's Own are all members of the Southern New Hampshire Women's Writing Group (SNHWWG). They've been writing and meeting together since 1996, and since their group's inception many of them have met with publishing success, as well as taken great strides forward in their writing. They decided to put this book together to share their group's philosophies and practical experience with other women who are interested in starting or being a part of a writing group.
The book is weighted more toward the practical side than the philosophical. The chapters are succinct and cover such topics as: how to start a group; how to join an existing group, setting dates and agendas, ways to give and get feedback on your writing and that of the rest of your group, affirming and encouraging one another, writing exercises, holding writing retreats, and group impact on craft. As you might guess from the title, one of the sections explores the question, "Why all women?" The authors go into some detail, but their general conclusion is that women writers can feel safer in an all-women environment. They use phrases like "inner sanctum" and say that, for some of them, having men present would cause them to censor themselves as they struggle to put their "most intimate secrets" on the page.
I don't find their arguments convincing. I have been in several writing groups, both all-women and mixed women and men. One particular women's group had such a strongly held sense of what women are like as people, and what women should care about/write about, that I restricted the writing I brought to them more heavily than ever before or since. Also, if I am writing for publication, then worrying that men will read my intimate secrets seems counter-productive. In fact, I'd far rather have men I know and trust seeing my secrets first, and helping me write them as strongly as possible, before I send them out into the world in general.
Other women's experiences and needs from writing partners and critics will obviously vary. Women, after all, are not just different from men; they differ from one another as well. Other readers may find the SNHWWG's reasons for having an all-women's group convincing. It's merely worth pointing out that being in a group of only women is no guarantee of safety.
The most valuable section of this book is "Part Three: Resources." The authors give samples of the documentation they've developed for the smooth functioning of their group, such as membership guidelines and a meeting and feedback schedule. They also include sample query letters, cover letters and Web sites they have found helpful.
Overall, the "how to" nature of A Group of One's Own could make it a useful tool for anyone who wants to become seriously involved in a writers' group, or even for someone who already belongs to such a group but wants to make the experience more valuable. And I say "anyone" because many of the practical explanations of group dynamics and the scheduling advice they offer are equally applicable to men or women. I'm putting the book on my shelf to refer to should I need to re-address various issues in the writing groups I belong to.