Writing groups often just begin with two or three like-minded friends who decide to meet a bit more formally to read their writing out to each other. This is a good way to start because it gives you time to work out the format and way of working that’s right for you.
Agree on a format and frequency.
What do you want to do in your group? Read out work and critique it? Set prompts and writing exercises? Or discuss writing-related topics more informally? Agreeing early on about the purpose of the group, and how often you want to meet, will help keep the group going as it develops. For a more informal group, once a month may be enough; for a more serious circle, you might want to aim for every fortnight.
Think about who the group is for.
Are you happy for the group to be open to anyone with an interest in writing? Or do you want the group to be for more committed writers who are looking to get published? Or are you happy with a mixture of experience levels? Thinking about this early on will help you recruit the right people to your group.
Work your network.
If you want to expand your group a little, start by talking to people you now who might be interested. Once the word is out, you’ll find news quickly spreads – there are writers everywhere, secretly beavering away on their words! You could also put flyers in libraries and advertise on local community forums.
Decide on venue(s).
The choice of venue varies according to the type of group you want to be. Informal discussion about writing may be fine in a pub or café, but reading work out loud and discussing it in a more in-depth way can be quite an intimate activity. In our group, we rotate between different homes; other groups we know meet in the same home every time.
Set out a few basic ground rules.
It’s a good idea to jot down a few lines about the group’s purpose, format, and ways of working. Many of these will be obvious but it will be a useful introduction for new members. You might want to include rules about work having to be original, being respectful when giving feedback, making sure everyone gets roughly the same group time for their work, and so on.
Have a cap on numbers.
Getting the group size right is a delicate balance. Our group meets in the evening, and we work best with around 4-7 attendees. If there are many more, there isn’t really time for the group to get round to everyone; which we insist on. Some groups get much bigger, but the danger there is that only the most confident voices get heard. We have a group squad of about 9-10 members, but on any one evening we rarely get more than 5 or 6, so the number works out just right.
The way in which feedback is given is a common source of friction in writers’ groups. It’s vital that people share comments in a respectful, constructive way, judging the work on its own terms. As the leader of the group, you’ll want to keep an eye out to make sure that no one is getting too harsh in their comments, or too discouraged by what they hear. You’ll also want to keep an eye on time, to make sure that everyone gets a fair share of group attention.
I love these helpful, actionable tips Dan provided us with here today. But, as a founder and president of my own writers' group for more than a decade, I felt compelled to also share a few recommendations to optimize your efforts.
- Reserve the right to screen, remove and reject members as you see fit. Unfortunately, some personality types don't work well in group settings. And there's nothing more counter-productive than having conflict, competition and disharmony in a creative group formed with a constructive purpose; particularly for meetings held in your home.
- Serve refreshments. Good food enhances moods. It doesn't have to be an elaborate spread. Think deviled eggs, chips and dip, take-out pizza, or coffee and cake.
- Consider charging membership dues or participation fees for your time, effort and shared resources. You deserve it. It also provides for a little extra writing revenue.
- Write up and distribute formal guidelines and terms for members to accept and sign off on. It ensures that everyone will be "on the same page" and minimizes conflict.
Dan's Final thought: Best thing I ever did!
Before I joined a writing group, I was suspicious and nervous about the whole idea. But within a few weeks, I quickly realized that it’s the best thing I’ve ever done to develop my writing. You learn so much from reading your work out loud, and the many different perspectives that the group offers. If you’re thinking of joining or starting a group, go for it!
Thoughts? What would you add?
Tell us about your writing groups in the comments.
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I'm glad to be back. Let's talk...
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