One of the best things any writer could do for themselves is joining a writing group. Not only will this help you interact with other writers, but it will help improve your writing skills and allow you to grow as an author. before you can join a writing group, you have to find one. Check in with your library, church, local community college or look in Meetup. If none of these places have information on writing groups, think about starting your own.
Before you start a group, you’ll need to find a place to meet. Libraries and churches will often give space for a writing groups, I once belonged to a group that had space in both places. Both options are good safe places for such a group. They may also allow you to put up fliers looking for members.
Putting Together a Writing Group
Once you have some people interested in joining your writing group, you need know the basics on managing a group. It’s not difficult, but you have to keep your head clear and be thoughtful. Remember, writing groups can pose a lot of problems if not handled properly, especially when egos get involved. Some people tend to dole out negative criticism thinking they’re being helpful or honest, when they’re actually having the exact opposite effect. Negative criticism opens the door to hurt feelings, loss of pride, anger, and resentment, which helps nobody and will tear the group apart.
But if you can’t say anything bad, how do you honestly discuss a person’s writing? That’s easy, think about the way you phrase your comments. Say things like:
- The story didn’t work for me because…
- It might be better if…
- I don’t understand why…
Not only will wording criticism this way keep hurt feelings at bay, but it will also open the door for discussion, which is what a writing group is all about.
Code of Conduct
Now that you have your group together, you must set a code of conduct. I know we all hate being told how to behave, but without it the discussion may easily become destructive instead of constructive. Here are a set of rules that I find helpful.
- Be thoughtful when it comes to negative criticism (see above section on negative criticism).
- If you mention a part of the story that didn’t work for you, you must explain why it didn’t work.
- You must give an example on how to make an aspect of a story better if you mention one that didn’t work.
- The author being critiqued can’t speak unless a question is asked. This will keep the group focused.
- All critiques must have a section of what worked and how the story could be improved and why. Only talking about what needs to be improved is no good for anybody. You can always find something nice to say.
It’s a good idea to have the Code of Conduct printed out to hand to new members.
Rules for the group must be determined before it can begin. This can be agreed upon by the group or decided by the person putting the group together. The rules that must be considered are:
- The length of each meeting
- How many authors will be critiqued per meeting.
- The length of each critique
- The order in which critiques are given
- I suggest sitting in a circle and going clockwise, starting with the person to the left of the author.
- Who will be assigned as the moderator
- To keep the group to keep focused, it’s a good idea to assign a moderator.
- The moderator can change with each meeting or be a permanent assignment.
- The moderator will cut a critique short if it goes over the assigned time.
- The moderator will keep everybody to the code of conduct.
- The meeting place, time, and frequency.
- Will it be strictly critique, only writing exercises, or both?
Once these rules are set, you can begin the group.
What Is a Writing Exercise?
Some groups do either critiques or writing exercises, and some do both. Writing exercises usually involve a set amount of time and focus on one thing. The goal is to get people to write. Some include the group looking at a picture and writing a story about the image, writing without stopping, or using a simple theme. Google writing exercises to find more.
You don’t have to be in a group to do a writing exercise. If you ever feel blocked or don’t know what to write about, do one to find some inspiration.
A Common Book on Editing
Before any writing group can begin, it helps to have a common book about editing that will be used. My favorite is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by by Renni Browne and Dave King. There are many other books on editing you can use, choose one that’s concise and everybody agrees on. Have a copy of this book available for new members to borrow, along with other helpful books on writing. Or, if you don’t want to have a library, make a list of books on writing to hand to new members as suggested reading.
If a writing group is handled properly, friendships will be forged and people will grow as writers.