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.
Gathering Writing Group Members
Every article or self-help book on becoming a writer suggests joining a writers group to improve your skills through feedback. If you’ve searched all the usual venues—local library, bookstores, coffee shops, and community centers—and not found an existing writers group you want to join, then it’s time to start a new one.
The first step is to expand your network. In this case, you are searching for individuals with a shared interest in improving their writing skills. Networking can be as basic as when you’re at a party and meet someone who’s interested in books or as far reaching as posting a notice on Craigslist or Reddit.
An easy way to start is to head back to your local library, the community center, independent bookstores, and coffee shops and post an announcement about your writers group. Search the local papers and smaller press for open mic events featuring poetry. The venue hosting the event would be another excellent spot for advertising a writers group.
If you’ve already completed the first step—defining your group—this is where that whole process pays off. Now you’ll craft your notice consistent with the group goals. Whether your group is a hard-core critique group, or a more nurturing creative endeavor should be clear in the ad. Are beginners welcome? Is the focus on getting published or as simple as getting started writing? Tags like Creative versus Critique will set the tone in your posting. Develop a clear message about the group and leave your contact information. If you post a notice in three or four places, you’re more likely to get a few responses.
Another place to find potential members is to attend a local book fair. Walk around and talk to the authors. Find out who lives in your area, and who might be interested in forming a new group. Sometimes the local chapter of national writers groups, like Sisters in Crime or the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, will have a booth or table at book events. Leave your contact information with anyone who shows an interest.
Many writers groups are formed by students who’ve met in a creative writing class at a community college. Relationships are formed during the course, and it’s only a matter of continuing the routine. If you don’t have time for a full blown course, then check out a one day workshop. During breaks you can introduce yourself to others who seem to have similar interests and tell them about your writers group. And, you could join a national writers group, even if it’s not exactly your genre. It’s all about making contacts to find potential members.
Once you have some responses, even if it’s only one person, don’t be afraid to start small. Set up a time and place to gather, each bringing a short sample of writing. That’s your inaugural meeting. Let it grow from there.
Don’t stop looking for new members either. When someone comes along that fits the group, even if the group is a little big, welcome in the new influence. Because sure enough, Life happens and there will be members who drop out. The number of members isn’t nearly as important as the commitment of the people in the group—as long as everyone shares the same goals—that’s what counts.
As few as two people can be effective if it is a serious critique session. When both members are producing a steady stream of output to be reviewed, this can be an ideal set-up for completing a project with the goal of having a publishable product. A small group can be just the sort of intimate, deep-dive needed to get to the finish line.
As many as twenty members won’t be overwhelming if there’s sufficient time and an effective process to give everyone an opportunity to give and receive feedback. A large group is a great setting if you are seeking a broad perspective for a new idea or working through a specific problem.
But, small or large, a group can get out of control when there’s an imbalance. This typically happens if there’s a hog in the group, hog being the person that must dominate every discussion, thereby crowding out other voices at the table. As the group founder, you’ll also be expected to facilitate the meetings. This means finding ways to keep the discussion moving and ensuring all the voices are heard.
Besides being the facilitator and the founder, you’ll also need to model the behavior of a good team member. A good member comes prepared by reading all the material. A good member provides feedback in a positive and respectful manner. Members who only show up when they have something they’ve written but never appear at other times aren’t contributing. And, likewise the purpose of the group is to encourage everyone to contribute new work, so it isn’t helpful having members who are only readers and not writers.
Writers groups are the most productive when all the members are giving as much as they are taking.