Creating a Writer’s Group, A How to

Writers Group

I’ve never been good at dealing with criticism. Hearing my work butchered, aka edited, is never easy for me. I just don’t like the heat associated with it. But having published a couple books in the last few years, I understand the need for constructive/harsh/brutally honest critique. I knew that I wanted to start some sort of writer’s group (or something close to that). I sat in idle depression as nothing got off the ground. So I prayed, talked about the idea with some friends, forgot about doing it for a while and eventually gave up. But eventually, word got around and prayers got answered. A friend of mine, who knew I was a writer, had been doing some writing of his own. He really wanted some honest input and so, I agreed to meet with him. Then his brother was interested in meeting. So he joined. Then another joined. And another. And soon it became apparent that this was more than just some guys hanging out – it was a legit writer’s group.

Pretty cool, eh? Nearly 10 months later and we’re still going strong (that’s just a portion of the guys in the pic). We have sci-fi specialists, an aspiring filmmaker who already has his own production company, a crime writer enthusiast, a guy who wants to write for video games (and is already working on one), a pastor working to write better sermons, and other aspiring writers still finding their voice. It’s a rather diverse bunch, to say the least. And if you ask me, that’s why it really thrives.

So let’s say you want to do the same. The only trouble is, where do you start? Where does anybody start, really? Well, there’s no exact science, per se. You just have to know what you’re looking for. And have a plan of action on how to get there. Here are some key points that worked for our group. This may not work for you, but it may be a helpful start.

1. Ask around your circle of influence, aka let your intentions be known.
Inquire with the people closest to you if they know of any other writing enthusiasts. Coworkers, friends of friends, anyone you’d consider a credible source is a good start. If they know of some people who write in their spare time or do plenty of reading, then you may want to contact them. Do so with the permission of your contact though. And be deliberate about your group. You never know what conversations your friends are having when you’re not around. One member of our writer’s group got started with us because my friend (who doesn’t write) talked with this member’s mother about our group. If I had never told my non-writing buddy about what I was up to, we may have never garnered a new member. But if you can’t do it, ask someone else in the group to do the marketing for you. There’s one in every group. That’s the truth.

2. Weed out the posers and the deviants
If you’ve discovered a few potentials then you probably want to do some sort of screening process. Establish some questions or maybe meet for coffee first. Ask what their interests are, who are their influences and if they enjoy reading and critiquing other people’s work. Be warned here – not everyone who tells you they enjoy writing is actually a dedicated writer. Yeah, I make my own dinner once in a while, but I’m no premier chef. There is a difference. You need people who are as serious about writing as you are. This is not to say that you shouldn’t invite people who are interested, just don’t feel like you should put pressure on them to perform. Eventually they may realize that your group is more than just a social hour – it’s about getting better at writing. So know your stuff. Understand what first-person perspective is versus third-person omniscient. These are some items you may want to spell out in the beginning.
So far as trust is concerned, be open with each other about not sniping each other’s work. Naturally, you may not want to share what you’ve been working on with total strangers. There’s always the slim chance that somebody will take your project, copy and paste, and then pawn it off as their own. Ever seen the movie The Words? Yeah, it could happen to you so be smart about who you invite into your new circle and when to share and discuss.

3. Have a consistent meeting place
Just how every sports team has a home field, so do writers. You need to do the same with your group. Establish a good place to meet and try to get there each week at the same time. My group meets on Saturday mornings at a local Panera Bread. That works for us, but it doesn’t have to be the same for everybody else. Find a place where you can sit, discuss, and share your work.

4. Create topics for discussion
If you helped create this monster, then you better bring some kind of agenda to the table each week. The writer’s group that I’m a member of has voiced several times that they enjoy structure. And structure is what I strive for. Writing prompts, encouraging others to read their work, giving some semblance of topics a week ahead – these are the types of things you need for a writer’s group. Otherwise you may find yourself spiraling into chaos. What happens when a legion of writers and readers get together? Well, they have a tendency to sit and analyze every major film, book, or literary achievement for the past 100 years. And if you aren’t careful, that’ll get everybody off topic in no time. So stay focused and try to keep a tight regimen on when the meetings end and/or begin.
Here are some good starter topics to consider for your group: establishing a genre of interest for each person, establishing what each person feels they are gifted in, promoting a basic understanding of those who are the most popular in your genre, etc. That should spark some good conversation and broaden the scope of others in the group who may be more knowledgeable in one genre versus another.

5. Encourage going to events together
For those who have attended job fairs, you have a good handle on what I’m referring to. There are always writing conventions, public reads, and agent meetings springing up all over the place and you, as a writer, should be checking them out when you can. If you’re like me though, you may not want to go by yourself all the time. So why not take your writer’s group? That way, you have a posse backing you up and you can get a bigger perspective on the world of publication. One word of caution here: experience. Not everyone in your group may be ready to go and talk with authors and agents. I’m not saying to go at the pace of those who are not as far along as the others, but be cognizant of where everyone is at. Try considering what each person in your group may take away from going to an event. Is there a downside to going? Will everyone get something from the experience? Ask yourself these questions before you start scheduling field trips.

6. Keep pressing forward and have an objective
This one goes along with point number 4. Let’s say you create a decent syllabus for your group and everyone is enjoying your discussions week to week. But what then? Every good writer knows there needs to be progression in a story. And you need to have that for your group. Create some goals, write down some objectives and try to stick to them. Our writer’s group started out with the “12 Steps to Writing” as a means to get going. Yes, it was a joke, but it helped us get our feet wet with what we wanted to accomplish. Now, our mission is simply “write something worth reading”. As we’ve started sharing with each other, we’ve gained more confidence to not only give honest feedback, but to receive it as well.

7. If 1-6 aren’t working, don’t get discouraged. There are other ways.
Let’s say that you didn’t find anybody worth starting a group with. Let’s also say that once you started the group, you found it to be a total mess. People didn’t show up on time, nobody liked the discussions, or maybe people weren’t disciplined enough to read other people’s works. Basically, it all fell apart. Here’s the reality: it doesn’t always go quite the way you planned. So if you didn’t find a core group worth getting together with or you struggled to keep the group going, there are other avenues out there, of course.
For instance, if you happen to go to a writing conference or public read, try talking to the people there. You’ll never know who you may meet. It could be someone who is looking for a group just like you are. Or they may know of a writer’s group that’s already established. Writers tend to be isolated by nature so fight that natural urge and get outside the comfort zone. Ultimately, you are going to share what you’ve written with the world and that’s the important thing to remember as you stride forward.

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