May 142009
 
a guide for writers and starting a writing group

Writing Alone, Together – A Guide for Writers and Writing Groups

A writers’ group can increase your productivity and boost your motivation to send your work to literary agents, magazine editors, and book publishers.

Whether you’re a freelance writer, aspiring novelist, or published poet – a writers’ group can keep you motivated, disciplined, productive…and published.

I mentioned my writing group on Twitter, and received several “I wish I belonged to a writers’ group, but there’s none in my area” or “My writing group disbanded – and I really miss it!” responses. So, here are my tips for starting a writer’s group.

Before the tips, a quip:

Resources for Writers

“If you don’t feel that you are possibly on the edge of humiliating yourself, of losing control of the whole thing, then probably what you are doing isn’t very vital.” – John Irving.

Fellow scribes, a writer’s group will help you stay grounded as you teeter on the edge of losing control and possibly humiliating yourself!

To learn more about writers’ groups, read Writing Alone, Writing Together: A Guide for Writers and Writing Groups by Judy Reeves.

And, check out these writing tips…

The benefits of a writers’ group:

  • Information sharing, which leads to growth
  • Inspiration from successful experiences
  • Support for rejections and feelings of failure
  • Encouragement to keep going
  • Feelings of solidarity and connectedness
  • Feedback for your writing, article ideas, or plans
  • Accountability for your writing goals

7 Tips for Starting a Writers’ Group

Decide on the best place to meet

My writer’s group started in a classroom at our local elementary school and moved to our homes (we rotate through the members’ houses). We’ve also met in the pub, which wasn’t as comfortable as a home. Other great places for writers’ groups to meet include the library, an uncrowded coffee shop, or a spare room in your local community center.

Be clear from the beginning about the structure of your meetings

Will you read your writing out loud, and will everyone give feedback? Will you email your story, article pitch, or book proposal before the meeting? Will you write during your meetings (that wouldn’t work for me – but it may be appealing to writers who struggle with motivation or time to write)? Will you brainstorm story ideas or wrestle with plot problems?

Start stretching your writers group from Day One

Be flexible about tweaking the structure based on group dynamics, location changes, new members, etc. Instead of rigidly adhering to “the way we’re supposed to do it”, consider mixing things up a little. For instance, if you meet every two weeks, you could alternate between a critique night and a “just talking about writing” night.

Be clear about what you’re looking for in a writers’ group

As I told my writing buddies last night (waving to my fellow WOBBERS! which stands for Write on Bowen :-) ) – I prefer sharing our writing goals, experiences, information, and inspirations. I’m not big on reading my writing out loud, nor do I love critiquing others’ writing. But, a writer’s group should be an amalgamation of what everyone needs and wants – which is where flexibility and open-mindedness comes in.

Develop clear guidelines for members, book genres, leaders, etc

Is your group open to new writers? Will you invite other writers – and do they have to be interested in your genre? When you’re starting a writer’s group, it helps to have a plan. My group recently faced a dilemma involving a possible new member; we weren’t all on the same page (as it were) and we hadn’t decided beforehand if we were ready for new members.

Re-evaluate your writing group regularly

Agree on the guidelines for your writer’s group, and then re-evaluate after a season – such as every quarter or every September.

Consider recruiting a co-leader

When I started this writer’s group two years ago, I had a co-leader who pulled out at the last minute because of other commitments. I wasn’t happy spearheading the group on my own, so I let it wither away. One of the members encouraged me to start it up again (Hi, Maggie!) – and I’m so glad I did. It’s a smaller group and I’m not “in charge”, which is what I wanted all along.

For me, the best part of this writer’s group – besides the motivation and encouragement – is seeing how we’re achieving our goals as writers. We’re completing novels, book proposals, and articles. Together, we’re forging ahead in this crazy business – and our progress is sweeter because we savor it together.

If you’re not motivated to write (much less start a writers’ group!), read 5 Tips for Overcoming Discouragement and Rejection for Writers.

Fellow scribes, do you have any thoughts or questions about starting a writers’ group? I welcome you below!

About Me

quips tips love relationshipsI'm glad you're here! My name is Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen; my husband Bruce and I live in Vancouver, BC with our critters. We can't have kids, and are learning to accept whatever life brings - both good and bad. I have an MSW (Master of Social Work) from UBC, and degrees in Education and Psychology. I hope you say hello and share your thoughts below. If not, go well....and don't forget to come back! :-)

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  26 Responses to “7 Tips for Starting a Writers’ Group – Writing Alone, Together”

  1. Hi Linda,

    I haven’t encountered this situation in a writers’ group before, but I have co-facilitated many book clubs and other groups.

    The way I see it, the main problem is that April refuses to acknowledge that she is causing problems in your writer’s group. It’s normal for facilitators to experience conflict with each other or group members. However, when they refuse to try to find a way to compromise, then what hope is there for moving forward?

    I believe April feels threatened by a lack of control. She wants to control what your members write about, how to run the group, and what the group should look like in the new year.

    Since you can’t talk to April about running your writers group in a positive and cooperative way, maybe you need to think about multiplying your group. Maybe you could come up with a format that you’d like to see happen in your group, and email that to your current members. They could have the choice to join your group or stay with April’s – or maybe stick with both!

    I think that’s how I’d handle the situation, if I wanted to continue leading the writers’ group. If I wanted to take a break from facilitating, I’d just withdraw and say I need to focus on other things in my life for now.

    I hope this helps a little…I hate to be a downer, but I can’t think of any way to get April “on board” with a cooperative, positive way to co-facilitate the group!

    If anyone else has any suggestions, please let us know.

    Sincerely,
    Laurie

  2. I am co-facilitator of a writing group. The group has anywhere from 5 to 7 writers at a time. I like the practice of co-facilitation and planning and have done it successfully many times in other writing groups and activities. I wanted to work together as facilitators, but April insisted that she take one week and I take another. I acceded. The women in the group range in ages from 50 to 80. We meet in a local center, and any woman who wants to join may. The women have chosen to read their work out loud and receive critique. The co-facilitator, let’s call her April, refuses to listen to other members who don’t want to be told what to write about. She has made “assignments” for in and out of class writing that I knew nothing about. When members don’t comply, she gets angry.

    She also calls members and makes insinuations and negative comments about me. I only recently found out about this and consider it unprofessional. I asked to meet with her and plan together for the New Year. She refused, saying, “I am too busy.” As she walked out the door, she added, “And I won’t have any time in the near future either.” My perception, based on a year of experience, is that April, at the very least, is engaged in a power struggle. Her actions seem inappropriate, and her refusal to cooperate has the potential to tear the group apart. I am frustrated and wonder if anyone has encountered this kind of situation before. I would appreciate suggestions to help the group move forward in a positive and cooperative way.

  3. Hello Inky,

    I started a writers group on Bowen Island, BC – a very small community – by advertising with the community school. They sent out a list of new classes and groups twice a year, and it really helped to be in that!

    What about the newspaper? If you have a local paper, maybe you could write an article about your new writers’ group — or you could ask if they want to write an article about you.

    Word of mouth is another effective way to find members. Talk it up!

    I hope this helps…let me know how it goes!

    Blessings,
    Laurie

  4. I recently moved to a small town and came across a co-worker at my new job who writes. She is the only one I know in this town, where literacy isn’t exactly a high general value. My question is, how do shake out the other writers who may not know? I would love to get a lot of hidden writers together–different perspectives, genres, ideas. The plan is a post at the library and perhaps a craigslist, even though I hate the idea of putting a post out there for the bots and scammers. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  5. I’m not sure I want to start a writing group or join one. I just know that I miss fellow minded people, who write with passion, and love reading as well. This will probably eschew me to other writers, but I mostly am working on Scifi and fantasy, but not necessarily limited to those genres. I received my first rejection letter the other day for my novel SEAS OF NIGHT. I was at first dejected, but then thought deeper, and I realized, they only wanted the first five pages, and in those first few pages, the literary agency was probably right on. The novel, 389 pages in word and over 80,000 words, started slowly, like a snowball rolling down hill, it didn’t gain speed and mass until later. Oh, well. I learned something about the industry.

  6. Tumblemoose,

    I absolutely had to ask… was that crackpot me? I’m kidding, of course.
    Perhaps an online group would work?? I live in a very small, southern town. We have no groups here and a lot of discouragment. (get a real job, lol) But I’m feeling ya’ll.

    Happy Writing Everyone,
    Kim

  7. Hi Toritseju,

    The writers’ groups I’m speaking of don’t involve money. That is, the writers don’t have to pay money to belong, and the writers’ group organizers don’t get paid to set it up.

    I’m not sure if that answers your question…if not, let me know!

    Laurie

  8. Love your tips. But what really bothers me is besides the argument presented, is the financial benefits that should accrue members of the writers club or the founder.
    Could you speak on that?

  9. Laurie – Loved your thoughts on putting a group together working on a common idea, we do the same on our website. Come visit!

  10. We have assignments for short pieces, and read aloud. Anyone can comment. Forces us to think outside the box. Works with a small (6-8 members) group.

  11. Hi Ayda,

    Yes, it’s possible to have a writing group over the internet; in fact, I have just the starting point for you!

    3 Tips for Joining an Online Writing Group is an article here on Quips & Tips for Successful Writers that describes how online groups work.

    I also recommend visiting the Absolute Writers Forum (just Google it), and browsing their extensive forum for possible writing groups.

    I hope this helps; let me know how it goes!

    Best writing wishes,
    Laurie
    .-= Laurie PK´s last blog post ..5 Over-Used Words and Phrases for Writers to Avoid =-.

  12. Is it possible to have a writing group via internet? And so the meeting and feedback, responses and critiques through internet? Thank you.

  13. Hi Elizabeth,

    Thanks for this creative idea for writers — it sounds so fun! And I love the idea of publishing it in a magazine, and inviting more writers to your writer’s group.

    Lovely!

    Laurie
    .-= Laurie PK´s last blog post ..Networking Tips for Successful Writers – How to Get More Writing Jobs =-.

  14. We had a stand at the town’s Art and Crafts Open Day. We set up a flip-chart and wrote ‘The Big Chudleigh Poem’ which had contributions from 37 people aged 7 – 0+ and which was later published in the parish magazine. We signed up 18 interested writers on the day and gained a couple more via the parish magazine.

  15. Here’s an excerpt from a great post about writers’ groups, over on “Mots Justes.”

    Blogger John Fox takes a hard line [about critiquing in writers' groups]:

    “Don’t give supportive critiques. Critiques should be debilitating and harsh. The minute you start cheerleading is the minute you lose respectability. Of course you need to talk about what is good with the piece, and tell someone where to submit it, and how much work it needs (if much) before they send it out, but focus on the negative. That’s what’s helpful.”

    Fellow scribes, focus on the NEGATIVES when you’re discussing a piece of writing. Yes, the writer of the piece needs to not take it personally and develop a thick skin….but the critique will make him or her a successful writer! Stay focused on that.

    Here’s the link to Annlee’s whole article on Mots Justes: http://motsjustes.wordpress.com/2009/05/29/on-writers-groups-part-iii%e2%80%94rules/

    See you soon!
    Laurie

    Laurie PK’s last blog post..5 Ways to Increase Your Writing Income

  16. Great way to organize ideas and get started!

  17. Laurie and Bob,

    Thanks for the helpful suggestions, I’ll put them in play this summer.

    Cheers

    George

    Tumblemoose’s last blog post..What Kindergarten taught me about writing today

  18. Tumblemoose

    It might help to have one or two friends to start it. Also, try posting a notice at the local library, coffee shops, etc.
    Do a search on Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin to find locals who are interested in writing.

    Bob McDonnell’s last blog post..Sanction — good or bad?

  19. An effective tip for starting a writer’s group is to keep meeting, even if it’s just you! Set your schedule (eg, every 2nd Wednesdays at 7 pm), and get into the habit of showing up. You’ll create momentum and draw other writers…and soon you’ll be fighting off new members!

    Laurie PK’s last blog post..How to Make Money Blogging for Writers

  20. Laurie,

    I’ve had such a struggle attempting to get a group going in my local area.

    The first person who responded to my ad was a crackpot and other respondents have just never followed through.

    I’ll try again soon, and I’ll use these tips when I do.

    George

    Tumblemoose’s last blog post..What Kindergarten taught me about writing today

  21. We have a two hour meeting each time, so we can get through a business meeting and the critques.
    Eager to hear what others do too.

    Bob McDonnell’s last blog post..Bobby pin — origin of the word

  22. I like the idea of scheduling people to read at each meeting. We don’t do this because we talk about writing more than read our own.

    At the beginning of my writer’s group, most of us read — and it was so time-consuming! So, scheduling in advance and sending your work out first sounds ideal.

    Thanks for this tip, Bob. I, too, am curious if anyone else does this?

    Laurie

    Laurie PK’s last blog post..7 Tips for Starting a Writer’s Group

  23. Great points. I am fortunate to be part of a group of eight that uses most of what you said.

    We schedule two people to submit at each meeting. (Twice monthly) They email their submission to the rest of the group a few days before the actual meeting.
    Do other groups do this?

    Bob McDonnell’s last blog post..Bobby pin — origin of the word

  24. I am part of WOB, Laurie’s writing group and love it! I find our particular group’s goal of “getting published,” invaluable. It has helped me give up my attachment to procratination in favour of personal accountability. The process has been gentle. There are no demands from the group only the focus during meetings of each member’s progress; encouragement and feedback between meetings. The shared knowledge and expectation of success from each member is a nudge forward, a current quietly drawing a pebble into the main flow of the stream.

  25. Wonderful article Laurie – bang on with all the aspects to look at and be clear with. I would reiterate the importance of being clear about what type of writing group you want to join, be a part of, or start up – what do you want to get out of it and what do you want to offer? Having a clear intention for lead you to the best outcome.

    Gini Grey’s last blog post..Process

  26. Kelly asked me on Twitter: How do you find writers in your area interested in forming a group?

    Ask at your local smaller bookstores or libraries about possible members — and post signs on their bulletin boards. Try Craig’s List. Or, place a newspaper ad — some small local newspapers give free ads or space for nonprofit information. Also, try community centers or continuing education institutions.

    We’re lucky on Bowen Island, because we have a community forum on which we post news, opinions, questions, and info about stuff like new writer’s groups! If your community or city has a shared space, it could work to find other writers.

    And — some city halls or official city websites have space for local community groups. Some have calendars that display the meeting times, group descriptions, etc.

    Anyone else have any tips for finding fellow writers? That’s a great question!

    Laurie PK’s last blog post..7 Tips for Starting a Writer’s Group

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