So, You Wanna Start a Writing Group?

Absolute Blank

By Erica Ruedas (pinupgeek)

So you’ve decided that you no longer want to be a writer in solitary, locked in your room and scribbling madly away. You want to start a writers group. A writers group is a great way to help your writing, from getting past your writer’s block, to finding out if something is ready to submit, to just getting the motivation to write. Maybe you’ve already got a group of writer friends who want to join you—so it should be easy to just meet up regularly and write or talk about writing, right?

Recently, members on the Toasted Cheese forums chimed in with some advice on starting a new writers group, and how to keep writers coming back. TC Editor Boots started it off with this: “I just have a very simple advice—humility.” After that, there are a couple of things to think about when planning your new writers group.

First, decide what kind of group you want to be. Do you want to have a group of people meeting regularly to just get together and write? Do you want to have prompts at each meeting or just allow people to free write or work on their own projects? Do you want to have critiques on writing? Do you want to have writers bring in their work to read to the group for critiques, or email it beforehand so that everyone can come prepared? Planning out the basic format of your writers group will help new members get a sense of what to expect when they are considering joining your group.

Next, decide on where you’re going to meet. A quiet place is best, but make sure you’re allowed to talk and read out loud. A library is not a good idea, unless they have a meeting room. Coffee shops can work but can get crowded at certain times of the day, so make sure you figure out when it’s quieter. Sometimes even a restaurant will work, and can encourage people to keep coming back and stay longer if they can get food and drinks. Keep in mind, too, that some writers are shy and may not want their writing overheard by others, so make sure you accommodate or allow for them to submit their work by email before the meeting.

How often are you going to meet? And for how long? You can meet once a week, once a month, every other week, or something in between. Bob from the TC forums has a writers group that meets once a month, but for two to three hours. If you’re only going to meet once a month, a longer meeting works. However, if you’re going to meet more often, such as every week, a shorter time period is best, depending on everyone’s schedules.

How many people are you going to include in your group? And if you are critiquing, how many pieces can be read? It can be off-putting to members when the group is so big they have to sign up to bring a piece in, and spend most of your time critiquing without getting any feedback on their own work. It’s usually best to keep a new writers group small in the beginning so that people can participate every time. And if you have an eclectic group of writers, TC Editor Beaver has a tip: “Make sure your reading tastes are compatible… I’d suggest potential group members make a list of genres they don’t like to read.” Not everyone will want to sit through every style of writing there is. Additionally, you can also limit yourself to just short stories, or just novels, or just poems.

You’ll also want to decide if you want to admit new members. Several TC members have seen new writers come to a writers group only to never return again. And if someone brings in a lengthy piece, such as a novel, that they’ll read over several meetings, it can feel tedious to have to explain the novel’s premise every week to any new members. Do you want to make rules about attendance as well? Beaver says: “[I]f you’re not going to show up to a scheduled meeting, it’s nice to let the others know. It’s sad to show up to a meeting place at scheduled time and wait and wait and eventually realize no one else is coming.”

If you decide you’re going to admit new members, where will you advertise? Where will you stay up-to-date with current members? Facebook works well for a private group and is free. Craigslist is good for advertising but not for getting a discussion going. And Meetup.com is great for attracting new members, but costs money to start a group and can end up with a lot of members who don’t ever come to meetings. Decide on the format that’s best for your group—it may be that just email works the best.

And finally, harpspeed has some great advice about starting a writers group: “The best advice I could give would be not to be too fussy about rules.” While you want to get a good idea of how you’ll run your writers group, don’t be too strict on keeping it that way. It may not always go the way you planned, and could even evolve into something entirely different. It could end up changing for the better or fading away. No matter what, remember that your group will help you learn and grow your writing.

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