Top 5 Tips to Starting a Writers’ Group

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Running your own informal writing workshop can be a difficult but rewarding experience. It ain’t easy to get a group of people together who are promising writers AND critical readers, who are honest but nurturing in their feedback, who are committed to meeting frequently, and who don’t smell like cheap wine all the time.

But think of the American expats meeting at 27 Rue de Fleurus. Think of the Inklings congregating in the corner of some Oxford Pub. You could be the founder of a similar literary club that makes history! And even if you don’t make history, you’ll be making each other better writers. And THAT would seem to be the true measure of its success.

5 tips to starting a successful writing group:

1. Think like a country club and be selective with your membership.

Don’t start with a big group. Even if you only have one other trusted “member,” keep it small at first. Then slowly add people whose writing interests you. Pick people who are responsible and who seem like they’d be a great fit. This will allow you to better establish the tone and methods for working together.

2. Set some ground rules and enforce the law.

Establishing expectations early on is a good motivator. Should members submit a new work every week? Is everyone expected to have prepared meaningful feedback on everyone else’s work? Will there be a leader or mentor for the group? Is drinking allowed? Etc. You can always break these rules later if they’re not working, but first get everyone on the same page, so to speak. Also, consider in advance some respectful ways of addressing the matter if a member is falling short of their commitment.

3. Find the easiest method to share your work ahead of time.

Whether you bring printed copies of your newest story or poem the previous week or set up a shared Google docs folder, make sure you’ve got a clear and easy process for spreading those words around. No one likes an inbox full of emails from different writers on different days with different attachments and different file formats.

4. Pick a location that is conducive to creativity and productivity.

For some folks, a bar or pub might be the best place to loosen up and get the creativity flowing. For others, that setting could be nightmarish. Imagine taking some harsh criticism after downing 3 strong drinks.

Is a living room too stale a place to meet? A classroom too boring? A library too quiet? You’ll always have to make some compromise, but be sure to consider the environment that is best for your writing, not just the most comfortable or fun.

5. Schedule meetings well in advance.

We all lead busy lives. It is easy to say “Sure, let’s meet every other week!” But unless you all sit down and compare calendars, it ain’t gonna happen. Have every member bring their calendars, day planners, or smart phones with them to each meeting so you all know when your next assignments are due. If possible, plan out 3 months of meetings in advance. If it is going well, plan out the next 3 months about midway through that first string of dates.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to try out some different formulas for working together. The only real rule is that you should stick with what is helping you grow as a writer, and throw out anything that distracts you from that goal.

If you have thoughts or experiences to share in forming, running, or breaking up with a writers’ group, please feel free to leave your comments in the section below.

-Chris R. at BookBaby

Chris Robley
Chris Robley is an award-winning poet, songwriter, performer, and music producer who now lives in Portland, Maine after more than a decade in Portland, Oregon. His music has been praised by NPR, the LA Times, the Boston Globe, and others. Skyscraper Magazine said he is “one of the best short-story musicians to come along in quite some time.” Robley’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Beloit Poetry Journal, RHINO, Magma Poetry, and more. He is the 2013 winner of Boulevard's Poetry Prize for Emerging Writers and the 2014 recipient of a Maine Literary Award in the category of "Short Works Poetry."

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