Now that you know about the various types of writer’s groups available, you may be wondering how to go about starting a writer’s group yourself.
Starting a writer’s group is relatively easy. Regardless of which type of writer’s group you are trying to start, there are some basic things you’ll need:
In order for any group to run smoothly and successfully, a leader is needed. This person (most likely you) is responsible for recruiting members, choosing a venue, creating a schedule, and keeping the meetings on topic.
Dedicated members are crucial for a writer’s group. Ideally you will have a core group of people you can count on to always show up, and a few other people who will drop in when they are able.
Depending on the type of writer’s group you are running, size does matter. Discussion groups are the most flexible. Prompt groups, accountability groups, and critique groups, however, all have a membership sweet spot. I’ve found that sweet spot to be in the 4-6 range.
Schedule and structure are important in a writer’s group. Many people find the idea of sharing their writing with others to be daunting. An easy way to minimize their unease is to give them fewer variables to worry about. A firm schedule and structure does just that.
When I talk about schedule, I’m referring to the broader logistics of the group. Such as:
- How often will you meet? – weekly, bi-weekly, monthly?
- What day will you meet? – every Tuesday, the 15th and 30th of every month regardless of what day it falls on, the last Wednesday of every month?
- What time will you meet? – morning, afternoon, evening?
- How long will you meet for? – an hour, two hours, three?
Structure refers to the sequence of events at each meeting. Here is one example of structure for each type of group.
- Discussion group – leader introduces the meeting topic and gets the ball rolling. (I know this isn’t much of a structure but for this type of group that’s okay.)
- Accountability group – leader discusses their writing progress. They go over what their goals were, if they achieved them, and if not, why not. The leader then decides on their next set of goals. Going clockwise around the table, each member takes their turn discussing their progress and goals.
- Prompt group – leader gives a prompt and members have twenty minutes to write something using that prompt. Leader gives a warning when time is almost up. Once the twenty minutes are over, the leader reads their piece. Going clockwise around the table, members share what they’ve written. When everyone has shared, the leader gives the next prompt, and the process is repeated.
- Critique group – leader introduces the piece that is going to be critiqued then goes through their thoughts on the piece. Going clockwise around the table, each member explains what they liked and didn’t like about the piece covering whatever aspects have been set out in the guidelines. The author of the piece does not participate in the discussion. When the critiquing is finished, the piece to be critiqued at the next meeting is handed out.
Guidelines tie in with the goals of the group and contribute to the structure. For most groups, except maybe a relaxed discussion group, guidelines are important. They let people know what is expected of them and what they should avoid doing.
At the first meeting, the leader should go over the guidelines with everyone just to make sure you’re all on the same page. Personally, I like to quickly go over guidelines anytime a new member joins the group in addition to at the first meeting.
I also like to keep guidelines as concise as possible. Here are what my guidelines look like for certain groups:
- Accountability group – goals must be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time bound)
- Prompt group – this is not a critique group, comments about people’s writing should be positive, comments will be kept to a minimum so we have more time for writing, you don’t have to share your writing if you don’t want to, and pressuring someone to share their work will not be tolerated
- Critique group – if you submit a story for critique you must be willing to give a critique in return, criticism must be constructive
For critique groups, I also recommend you have guidelines detailing how critiques are to be given and what topics they should cover. I don’t currently have one made up to share with you, but I will put one together as soon as possible.
Snacks are arguably the most important element of any writer’s group. I don’t feel the need to explain this one, but I do have a tip. Don’t choose snacks that are crunchy. Crunchy is distracting. Also, don’t choose snacks that are sticky or gooey, especially if you’re starting a prompt group and people need to be able to snack and write simultaneously.
Those are the basics of starting a writer’s group. Remember writer’s can be flaky creatures so the real challenge is keeping the group going. If you have a committed leader, a firm schedule and structure, clear guidelines, and good snack sense, keeping your group going should be a cinch.
If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. Or if you’re just looking to join a writer’s group, check out the ones that I run.