Meanwhile, I'm still doing the MA. And this term we have weekly, online, workshops. Three of us write about 3000 words, submitted in advance, and we gather in a virtual chat room to post our comments. The tutor does her best to keep some sort of order, making sure we each comment in turn, and tapping her virtual ruler on the virtual desk if we retreat, too often, into playing.
So - that's the practicalities. I want to write about how this feels for me - I can't speak for any of the others. There were nine of us at the beginning of term, and only one has dropped by the wayside (with, no doubt, his own reasons). We all come with our own stories and prejudices and interests.
In the real world, I also belong to a writing group. We have been together a long time; we know who is robust and can manage having work dissected until it is in ribbons, and who needs a more gentle response. We care for each other, and produce the best work we can.
I put myself in the robust category. I am quite clear that someone pulling my writing apart is not saying anything about me. Sometimes I write reasonably, and sometimes I write rubbish, but all the time I am still me. There is no way to give that message to others we meet in a writing group online. Similarly, it is impossible to know the dreams, or the luggage, that our fellow writers might have when we cannot see their faces, or read body language.
Over the term we have grown braver in challenging each other. Initially we were generous, even gushing, in our praise and criticisms were well-hidden underneath the repeated assurance of how we absolutely love this book and can't possible wait for it to be published. While that is still there, we are less cautious with our comments now. We are learning from each other, from our moments of inspiration and our countless mistakes. Which, for me, makes the workshops more useful, even though it may mean some might find them more personally challenging.
We have formed an odd connection with each other. A strange familiarity - based only on the personnas we present in the chat room and our writing. There are spin-off 'friendships' on Facebook. We do our best to support each other, in a strange, virtual way.
So - is this group, with its tutor and its structure, a more useful learning exercise than my ad hoc, chatty, hyper-critical writing group. I have no idea. They both have a role to play. And you - have any of you experience of both? Which made more sense to you?