ALTERNATE ONLINE PERSONALITIES?! Why In-Person Writing Groups Are Far Better – by Gregory Austin

ALTERNATE ONLINE PERSONALITIES?! Why In-Person Writing Groups Are Far Better – by Gregory Austin

The pandemic has kept us cooped up for a long time. Whenever the ending of this drawn-out nightmare peeks above the horizon, another wave blitzes through, and buries us again. This unwanted gift of solitude gave us more time to write, but it took away the opportunity to experience life.

Before Covid-19, my partner and I taught and also attended various in-person writing classes. Meeting regularly to discuss writing mechanics, and to critique each other’s work, is an invaluable tool in the creative process. Now, more than a year and a half into this mess, we must decide whether to make the return to in-person groups, or continue to learn and develop as writers through alternative methods.

Why In-Person Meetings are so Valuable

Alternative methods may sound a bit sinister—especially to somebody who hosts in-person groups—but we’re just talking about Zoom or text-based meetings via social media or email.

During the pandemic, the Internet has kept members of the writing community together in a way it never had to, or was even capable of, in the past. Tiny little boxes, featuring tiny little faces, and too many microphones picking up unwanted background noise became the new normal once it became clear there was no foreseeable end to mass seclusion. Now, states, provinces, and cities across the world are once again loosening restrictions, and inviting humanity back into public spaces.

Having been an experienced facilitator for several years before the pandemic, I recognize an overall disconnect associated with online meet-ups. While critiques still come in fast and hard from the determined members of the group, a certain level of earnestness is lost whenever a computer separates a reviewer from the reviewed.

It’s no wild concept to recognize that earnestness is important. We writers are so close to and intertwined within our works-in-progress that we live or die on honest and thoughtful assessments. When we’re developing our words, we need other people to sift through the strongest and weakest elements.

Sometimes, however, a screen can act as a soiled filter. Most of us don’t realize or want to admit it, but we’re all different people online. Given the proper forum, an earnest person can transform into a master, philosopher, or superior being of their choosing. Because of this unintentional metamorphosis, much-needed virtues such as modesty and humility are often in short supply online.

Because of this, you might receive critiques that are overly harsh or far too generous, neither of which is true to life. In-person, we’re more likely to shed our vulnerabilities, and share them with our fellow writers because it’s easier to understand and become comfortable with one another when sharing a common space.

Is Now Really the Right Time?

I will forever be an advocate for in-person meetings; they’ll always be the best way to improve your craft. With that being said, this virus is still frightening for many. And, others who have returned to their normal lives are still wary of taking unnecessary risks.

In some locales, in-person groups have already returned. Other places are getting very close. On the contrary, select cities and even states are behind the curve. These places have seen increases in Covid cases and the emergence of new variants which have led to business closures and mask/distancing mandates being re-introduced.

It’s an unpredictable jungle out there, and the severity of the situation depends on where you live and what surrounds you.

Since I don’t know you or understand the idiosyncrasies of your life, it’s impossible to make a personal recommendation. It’s comforting to know that you and everybody else have this choice. If it feels like the right time to join — or rejoin — an in-person group, go out into the world and reap all the benefits you can. If it’s not yet a good time, stick with your Zoom or alternative group and do everything possible to ensure your best results.


Gregory and his writing/editing company, The Writing Lodge, recently moved from Buffalo, NY to Fabulous Las Vegas, NV. So far, he’s only experienced Vegas through the eyes of the pandemic, but hopes to soon find a few good students, a permanent classroom, and a place to grab a delicious burger and ice-cold mojito.

Catch up with him and the Writing Lodge on Twitter and Instagram.