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Joining a writers group will take your writing to a new level faster.
Writers need a group of people who can meet in person and talk face-to-face to receive support, encouragement, and critique. In our Five Year Plan course, we emphasize the importance of getting feedback from other writers.
But what if there are no groups near you?
You start one!
Starting a local writers group is easier than you think.
I’ve started and facilitated multiple writers groups. I started my first writer’s group in college with one other author I met at a writers conference. Over the years, as I’ve seen groups thrive and fizzle, I’ve learned a few things the hard way. In this article, I’ll share a few tips to help you avoid the mistakes I made.
Why Start a Writers Group?
Many of the greatest writers in history participated in writing groups. J.R.R.Tolkien and C.S. Lewis had The Inklings. Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, and John Maynard Keynes belonged to The Bloomsbury Group. Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald gathered in a group called Stratford-on-Odeon. Together, they created some fantastic literature.
Even when you know your writing craft will benefit from a critique group, the challenge is that most authors are introverted. They want to join someone else’s writers group. Few authors want to take the lead.
But for any group to be effective, there must be a leader who starts the group and keeps it going. If you can’t find a critique group in your area, maybe you need to lead one.
The good news is that writers groups are easy to start. If you don’t know any writers in your town, start asking around. Begin by asking your local librarian if she knows any local writers. Ask at your local coffee shop or church.
You don’t need a huge group. You really only need three or four writers who attend faithfully.
Who Should I Invite?
Writers Who Read Books on Writing
Look for members who read books on craft. If there’s one qualification for joining a critique group, it must be a willingness to learn. Ask potential members what craft book they’ve read most recently. If they haven’t read any or believe they don’t need to read books on writing, then they’re not learning. They don’t know what they don’t know, and they won’t benefit your group.
People who don’t read and study the craft will only be able to give strong opinions, but most of the time, those opinions are wrong because they don’t know the fundamentals of writing. If they’re parroting their fourth-grade English teacher, they probably don’t know how to write a bestselling book.
Writers Who Attend Writing Conferences
The easiest way to start a writers group is to go to a conference near you. Try to connect with the people who live in your area. Many conferences encourage people from the same region to gather at lunchtime or sit together so they can stay in touch after the conference.
Writers Who are Positive and Encouraging
Attitude is important. You need positive and encouraging members. Attitudes are contagious, and you want group members who have attitudes worth catching. A person with a critical and harsh spirit will torpedo a group. If members start to feel worn down by one person’s negative attitude, they’ll stop attending without telling you why.
Writers Who Are at a Similar Place in the Writing Journey
If some writers are just starting and others have published several books, the imbalance can cause friction and jealousy. It might feel awesome to be in a group with bestselling authors, but they’re probably struggling with different questions than you are. You may end up feeling like you’re behind when you’re actually just at a different stage.
Most times, you’ll have people ahead of you and behind you on the journey. The key to keeping envy out of your group is to make sure the most advanced writer is also the most generous servant to the group. In many instances, the most gifted writer will be you. If you want to keep the green-eyed monster from joining your group, you must model a desire to give your time and serve others.
Writers Who Serve a Similar Audience
It’s helpful if everyone in your group writes in the same genre. But it’s even more helpful if at least a few members are writing to the same audience. For example, if you’re writing fiction for 15-year-old boys and your author friend is writing fiction for 50-year-old women, you each need to take a different approach to fiction. Some elements of the fiction writing are the same, but the two audiences are looking for very different stories.
Who Should I Avoid?
People who think they know everything can squelch creativity and vulnerability. Know-it-alls can poison a writing group.
People who are sarcastic or negative will drag a group down and perhaps damage other members along the way.
People who are crazy. Not all authors are crazy, but many crazy people write. Crazy people can make your group interesting, but they also make it hard to sustain a group.
What Kind of Group Should I Form?
The primary purpose of every writer’s group is to encourage the members. Groups that fail to encourage people will fizzle out.
In general, these groups fall into three categories.
- Focus on the writing craft.
- Members typically bring writing samples.
- Accountability to write between meetings is often a major component of the group.
- Most meet weekly.
- Focus on the process of becoming an author.
- Often invite speakers to address the group.
- Focus as much on marketing and publishing as they do on craft.
- Tend to meet less frequently.
- Often attached to a sponsor organization like ACFW or Romance Writers of America.
- The focus is mostly on encouragement.
- Members check in and offer words of wisdom and inspiration for each other.
- It helps to talk through your struggles as a writer and know that someone cares and understands what you’re going through.
- Mastermind groups combine components of the critique and publishing groups.
- Listen to episodes on How to Start a Mastermind Group and Why Mastermind Groups Give You an Edge to learn more about starting a mastermind group.
Where in Real Life Do You Host It?
An Easy Location
Start at a coffee shop. People know where it is, and you can order coffee and food. Be sure to buy coffee and leave tips to garner favor with the business and its servers.
Keep it Small
Keep things small at first. Start with three members as the core of your group. Later, you can decide how big you want to become. In any group, a core group of people makes it run. If you start it, ask one or two people to assist you with ideas or advice and encourage you as you lead.
Pick a Small Room
Pick a venue that is too small at first. It’s much better to have a small room that feels full than to have a large room that makes it feel like no one came. Sending someone to get more chairs creates a sense of excitement, while a massive room with five people drains anticipation and makes people wonder if they shouldn’t have come.
As your group grows, you can move to a larger venue. Churches and Libraries are great locations, and they are generally willing to work with writers groups. Libraries will often post flyers so others can learn about your group.
How to Run the Group
Get the Word Out
One of the easiest ways to get the word out is to create a group on MeetUp.com. MeetUp will email all the people in your area who have expressed interest in a writing group. All the introverted writers on MeetUp who are waiting for someone else to start a group will receive that email.
Be sure to check out our stand-alone course, How to Start a Writers Group.
Before You Begin
Send out an uncomfortable number of reminders. You may feel obnoxious, but there is a lot of media noise in people’s lives, and they need multiple reminders. Don’t be afraid.
Bring Name Tags
Writers are often introverted, and nametags can help break the ice. Especially at your first several meetings, nametags will keep people from feeling ashamed for forgetting a name. Calling one another by name also breeds a sense of familiarity and friendship.
Prepare and outline an agenda ahead of time on paper. You may diverge from the outline, but people will see you’ve put some thought and planning into the event. They’ll be able to anticipate what’s coming and when the group will end. People get frustrated when they don’t know when the meeting will end.
The outline will allow you to relax and engage with the people rather than facilitate on the fly.
Prepare an icebreaker to help people get to know each other. Everyone will be nervous at first, especially introverts. Get them comfortable with an easy-to-answer, light-hearted, and non-writing-related icebreaker. For example, “Tell us your name and your favorite flavor of ice cream.”
Sharing your writing with strangers can be very scary. If your members feel comfortable, your group will be more beneficial.
At every meeting, begin by reminding members of the vision for the group. A good vision will eliminate a lot of future problems.
Answer the question, “Why are we here?” For example, your vision statement might be, “We are on a team to help each other write better books.” Don’t give a five-minute speech, just give a 30-second reminder about why you’ve gathered. Set a tone of humble encouragement.
Always start every group by having members introduce themselves–again. Many of your members may be introverted or feel uncomfortable, even if they’ve been attending for six months. Regular introductions prevent those awkward moments where you know you should know a person’s name.
A publishing group may invite a speaker, and a mastermind group may invite someone to the hot seat to ask questions. But a critique group has several options.
Writing exercises are great because no one has to prepare, which makes it a great option for your first meeting. Invite everyone to bring their laptops or provide pens and paper. Give a writing prompt, allow members to write, and invite members to share their writing.
Establish whether members want actual critique or if they’re looking for encouragement. Beginning writers especially may need more encouragement than critique.
One method of critiquing is to give a critique sandwich. Begin by telling the writer what you liked about their piece or what they did well. Then offer one way they could change or improve their writing. Sandwich that critique with another encouraging word. Be very careful with critiques, and make sure you have the bread of encouragement on either side of the critique.
As the leader, you need to model being as encouraging as possible. Be cautious about how you word your critique, too. It’s not necessarily something they “did wrong.” You simply suggest ways to help the writer make the piece an even more enjoyable experience for their readers.
Don’t make everyone critique the piece. It may be overwhelming.
Sit Down Shut Up and Write
A writer’s group in Austin gathers to simply write together. As the name suggests, they sit down, stop talking, and start writing for one hour. When the one-hour timer goes off, they have 15 minutes to chitchat. Sometimes they do two sessions in a night, and during NaNoWriMo, they meet daily.
It’s motivating because everyone is writing together. It’s a fun way to write as a community, and it’s really easy for the leader. You don’t have to be a guru or expert. You just make sure people write.
It may sound silly, but it’s actually inspiring to write with other writers. You’ll find you do more writing in an accountable group.
Announce Next Meeting
Before you dismiss, announce the next meeting’s time, place, and topic. Tell everyone why, when, and where they should come back.
End on Time
End the meeting on time. There is always another meeting coming up. Don’t feel like you have an excuse to go over. You want people to want more and not be exhausted by a meeting that drug on.
Even though you end on time, expect everyone to stick around to chat. Post-meeting visiting is a great sign of a healthy writing group. If you have the library room for two hours, end the meeting 15 minutes before your time is up. You don’t want to have to kick people out. The only exception will be if you’re urging people to leave the library to gather somewhere else for food and drink.
No matter where you are on your writing journey, a group of positive, encouraging writers can accelerate your learning and provide the accountability you need to finish projects and pass milestones. What’s keeping you from starting one?
Lauren Lynch, author of the Time Drifter Series (affiliate link)
Lauren Lynch writes faith-infused historical fantasies created to challenge readers of all ages. Explore ancient civilizations like Tikal, Pompeii, and Cappadocia from a Christian worldview. Join the newsletter at www.laurenlynch.com for free ebooks and updates.
- What Group Format to Pick
- Where and How to Meet in Real Life
- Where to Meet Online
- How to Find Great Group Members
- Tools to Manage The Community Between Meetings
- When to Meet
- How to Run A Meeting
- Multiplying Your Group
- Transitioning Leadership
- How to Deal with Difficult Group Members
The course is normally $50, but Patrons receive a 50% discount. If you’re taking the Five Year Plan, the course is included for free.