NDJ:4 Michael R. Bieber, PhD


I believe participating in a writing group is similar to working with a patient. You need to listen (read) carefully, let yourself think about what you are reacting to, and then consider alternative approaches to how to respond to the writer, with the goal of trying to say something helpful for the writer in developing his or her writing skills.

I know three participants in New Directions who gave up a writing project after careless and insensitive remarks by other group members. Imagine listening to one of your patients and reacting with irritation at what he is telling you, then telling him you didn’t like what he said, and how he said it, and, you believed he was actually talking about something else entirely. We all may have committed this error in our clinical work, but we certainly try to avoid this kind of countertransference reaction.

It is easy to imagine what the writer wants to hear; it’s what we all want to hear: “It’s wonderful. Don’t change a thing.” But, of course, the reality is that even the best writers do many rewrites, and other writers’ observations about your work will often be helpful. Remember to be thoughtful and helpful in your comments to members of your writing group.