In theory, starting a writing group should be pretty straightforward: find some writers, put them in a room, brew some coffee, and let the magic begin. But even within this simplified model, there are complications, such as: What people? What room? Decaf or caffeinated?
Below are five tips to make your fledgling writers group a great success.
1. Finding Your People.
It’s not easy to find writers. Sure, we’re everywhere, but it can feel a little awkward to walk up to a stranger in a bookstore and ask if they want to form a group. The CVWG’s “Directory” is an attempt to avoid that awkwardness, and it’s one place to begin your search. Keep in mind that the Guild does not have the resources to personally vet each individual group, but the assumption is that each “open” group is willing to meet prospective members with a potential to welcome them into the group. Admittedly, this, too, can feel a little awkward. Which is why sometimes rallying a group of friends (3-5 is a fine starting place!) and starting a new group that fits your needs is another way to get things going.
2. Settling On Goals.
The success of a writers group hinges on finding people who share your goals. Begin your early meetings by discussing just what your goals might be. Do you want your group to serve as a place to workshop new work? If so, what’s an appropriate number of pages to share, and how do you play to distribute the work? More than anything, the sharing of work should always be equitable. Group members loose steam when one person turns in a poem to be workshopped while another person turns in a book. By settling on a few basic goals (What do we want to achieve? How will our meetings run? How many pages do we plan to share? How will we distribute the work) can go a long way to ensure that the expectations are clear for all involved.
3. Maintaining A Schedule.
We all live busy lives, and it can be tough to squeeze in even an hour or two a month for a writers group to meet. Perhaps the best way to find a schedule that works is to set upon a specific time each month (the second Tuesday, for instance) and then stick to that schedule as best as you can. Things always come up, of course, but if you can make your writers group adhere to a routine, then your group will benefit as a result of the stability. Schedule early, block out the time on your calendar, and reserve a brief moment in your life for your art and the art of others.
4. Providing Useful Feedback.
Not all writers group will follow the “workshop” model of sharing work and offering feedback. Some groups, for instance, might simply benefit by the social engagement or support provided by the group setting. However, for those who do want to provide substantive feedback on work, take some time to decide the group’s comfort level. You can develop your group’s “tone” or “vibe” by having a candid conversation about the depth of feedback you’re comfortable giving and receiving. Being mindful of the tenor of the room is crucial, and striking a balance between providing feedback that is simultaneously supportive, substantive, and specific, and can often go a long way.
5. Making It Your Own.
The most successful writers groups don’t subscribe to the same rules as any other. Rather, each group should feel comfortable forming its own culture for the benefit of the group. Do what you want! Have fun! And if it starts to feel like a slog, it’s time to take stock of your current structure and adjust as necessary. Keep in mind, however, that building a community takes time, and building a writing group, in particular, takes time and trust. Be generous, be kind, be present, be helpful, and most of all, be inspired and be inspiring.