The assorted authors on this blog belong to a writing group in Phoenix, Arizona, and we thought we would share some of our ideas and experience. This is one in a series of posts we’ve put together on The Care and Feeding of a Writing Group.
Writing is by its very nature a solitary task. Yet if you talk to successful writers, they will likely attribute much of their success to the people who have nurtured and supported them over the years as they developed their craft. Those of us at Writing Is Cake are no exception. We are all part of a writing group that has met in various incarnations since 2005, and as such, we’ve learned a thing or two about how quality writing groups work. With that thought in mind, we will be spending the next few weeks sharing some of those insights with our readers. Please learn from our successes (and especially from our mistakes). We would also love to hear about your own writing group experiences.
Defining the Group’s Goals
Defining what your writing group is and is not is one of the most important and overlooked steps in pulling together a group. It may seem that “we all want to write” is enough of a common bond, but it usually isn’t.
Are you all writing for fun, or to get published? Screenplays or poetry? Science fiction or romances? How do you give feedback to each other? How often do you have to write to be part of the group? Are members of the group expected to provide each other with ideas? Help with editing? Participate in table reads? For any one of these things you decide to include or exclude from your group, some people will be thrilled while others may become frustrated or quit.
Defining the goals for your group will give it its own personality and character. If you don’t define it yourself, the group’s character will develop on its own, and it may not be something you like.
There are no right or wrong answers. It’s all a matter of preference. But here are a few things to consider.
Who is the group for?
Saying it is “for anyone who likes to write” seems easy and inclusive, but the goals of an author on a publishing deadline, and those of a casual free-verse poet are very different.You can find those differences clashing if you’re not careful.
Our group is for casual writers. Several members have submitted things to magazines and publications (and a few have been accepted!), but that is their own work outside the group. We aren’t regularly reviewing novels and discussing challenges of finding an agent or negotiating a contract. This is just how our group evolved from the original members, and after that became the expectation we set with new people.
Which genres and styles are welcome?
We allow all genres, but this means we can often only provide personal impressions as feedback. A romance writer may not have much concrete input for a science fiction author. If you have a group of people all focused in one genre, like crime novels, you will have a common area of expertise everyone can share. When you have a wide range of genres, sometimes the most you can give is “I did/didn’t like this, and here is why.” That diversity may limit the depth at which you can help any one author, but it can bring a wide range of ideas to the table.
How are members required to participate?
You also need to decide what expectation to set for new writers. Is everyone required to write weekly? How often should a writer bring new work? What do you do if someone is only attending and not writing? What happens if someone attends only when they have material to share, and never to review other people’s work? How often can rewrites of the same work be submitted to the group? Each one of these will affect how long your sessions take, and how much work each person has to do on a weekly basis. Submitting rewrites can be helpful for the author, but can be draining on the group trying to give input on slight variations of the same material.
Our group requires people to attend every meeting they can, and bring new material at least every few meetings. Bringing material every time is a bit much, but we do push people if they’re not bringing in material for several weeks at a time. We allow writers to submit one rewrite of a previous work, but limit it there. Being part of a writing group requires work, and how you answer these questions will determine just how much work that is.
How much time do you expect your group to take each week?
You may meet for an hour every other week, but how much independent time will people spend reviewing each other’s material? If everyone will spend on average 5 to 6 hours reviewing other people’s writing each week, that’s important to tell people up front. If it’s simply a group where people show up and participate during your meetings, that’s also good to know in advance. Writing these things down will help you tailor your group membership at the beginning and eliminate conflict later.
When you answer these questions, you can combine them into a simple statement like:
This writing group is for non-published writers of all genres of fiction, from short story to novel length works. The group meets weekly for an hour, and members are expected to contribute at least once a month, and participate in table discussions of all other members’ material. Reading of group material can take up to an hour a week in addition to the meeting itself.
It may seem overkill, but writing it down can reduce confusion and frustration later, and will help you greatly as your group evolves.