How to Start a Writing Group
This is the second post on our series about writing groups. The first one is 5 Reasons to Start a Writing Group.
You’ve determined to seriously pursue a writing career, but you feel like you need support and feedback. Although you joined a couple of writing groups, you dropped out of each one because the fit just didn’t feel right. What do you do now? Start your own group, of course.
How many members do you want? What level of experience should they have? Should all members be writing for the same market? It’s best to start small (up to half a dozen people), seek people with similar experience levels (writers with one or more published short stories, for example), and select others writing in the same genre or niche — and working in the same form, whether short stories or novels — as you are. The closer the skills and interests of group members, the more productive it will be. (But be flexible about demographic details such as gender and age.)
Design a simple but informative flyer. Specify the details about ideal group composition you have decided on, pick a day and time for regular meetings (the most frequently recommended meeting duration is two hours), and provide contact information. Print copies and post them, but be discriminating: Target writer habitats such as bookstores (especially those that sell used books), cafes, and schools, and avoid blanketing general-purpose bulletin boards.
Briefly interview people who contact you. Tell them you’ll check back after you’ve lined up the number of people you want to start with. Take notes and, immediately after the call or email exchange, evaluate them with a simple yes, maybe, or no and perhaps a couple of notes to remind you why you assigned that grade (“sincere — asked about my writing”; “insecure? but good fit,” “arrogant”). If a “no” persists in trying to join, tell them, “I’m looking for people who aren’t yet quite at your level” or “I have the number I want, but I’ll keep you in mind if someone drops out.”
When you have enough “yes” candidates, consider adding a couple of strong “maybe” prospects in case one or two people drop out; if you have more defections later, you can always recruit others or disband and start again. If three of you work well together but don’t feel comfortable continuing with one or more of the others, break up the group and start over with that cooperative core. But take care to avoid acting like a clique, and be diplomatic.
Choose a setting and stay with it. If you plan to host at your home, stick to that location rather than rotating among everyone’s domiciles. Better yet, meet at a local library (some have small meeting rooms available for just this type of purpose) or a community center, or a quiet cafe.
Contact and confirm your finalists, and if anyone backs out, keep recruiting from the “maybe” list or from new candidates. Set up the first meeting; if the day and time doesn’t work for someone, jot down their preference and bring it up when the rest of the group convenes for the first time. If the alternate day and time is equally convenient for everybody, consider switching for subsequent meetings. If not, wish the person good luck in finding a group that meets at a better time for them.
Ask members to bring an excerpt from a current project — something that will take five minutes or less to read — so that others will have an immediate grasp of everyone’s skill and style.
Next up: How to conduct writing groups.
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