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.
The Where, When, and How of building a writing group
Similar to planning for a wedding day or other important events, securing the right location and having the right atmosphere is paramount to its success. This is also true for writing groups. Finding the right place for your meetings can accelerate your group in achieving its writing group objectives. In this chapter, we’ll share a few critical considerations for your writing group logistics based on our experience. Our goal is to share our experience so that you can enhance your plans and design your writing group goals and expectations for staying connected as a team.
The key logistics to plan for as you start your writing group include where to meet, frequency of meetings and sustaining the communications and momentum in between meetings.
Finding a good meeting location
The physical space selected to host your writing group sessions should align with the goals of your writing group. In our writing group, we require members to provide input on each others’ posted work. The work can range from poems to chapter readings. Therefore, securing a location that will allow for open discussions without disturbing others is critical to achieving this group goal. We have chosen face to face as our primary method of meeting. With tools such as Google hangout, Skype and Google docs, meeting virtually may work for some groups. There is no right or wrong answer but consider which would work best for your group in achieving your meeting goals.
Tips for finding the right venue
As you choose your location, you want to find a central location that is easily accessible for all members. If you can minimize the commute time to 25 minutes or less, this will minimize the driving burden on any one person. You should also keep an eye out for a location that strikes the right balance between being quiet enough but not so loud that you are distracting to other patrons.
Example of Places
We meet in coffee houses and the open and engaging atmosphere provides the right setting for our team. We are also allowed to rearrange tables to maximize use of the space. The most common table arrangement for our meetings is the rectangular shape. Both round and rectangular setups work well for writing groups. The rectangular shaped tables will allow for more people. In addition to coffee shops, you can also check with your local library on renting out a meeting room, book stores and restaurants often have private space that is available. We have tried out a few different locations over the years and most have been coffee establishments.
How often should your writing group meet?
The key to successful writing outcomes travels through a path of establishing and sustaining a disciplined routine. This discipline cuts across the writing that is happening outside of the meetings and the discipline required in setting up and convening with members on a periodic frequency. In our writing group, we have found a schedule of meeting every 2 weeks provides the right cadence for having adequate time to write and develop your own short pieces and give adequate time to read each other’s work in advance of the writing group meeting. The size of your group and the volume of work to read in advance of the session should also factor into the frequency of meeting and the amount of time scheduled per session. Our group is for casual writing and on any given meeting; we are reviewing two to four pieces.
Length of meetings
This will vary based on the size of your group and the volume of submissions provided in advance of meetings by each member. On average, our group is generally reading 2-3 writing pieces per session. We also allow time for updates by each member regardless if they are submitting a writing work for the session. With reviews of three pieces per session and a group size of 5-6 people, we recommend a session time of 1.5 hr. Be sure to identify a facilitator as it is easy to stay on one person’s work too long and run out of time.
Staying connected between meetings
In this rich technology age, we strongly recommend usage of a calendaring tool to establish your writing group meetings. This could be Google calendar, meeting wizard, Microsoft Outlook or your tool of choice. Our group uses Google Calendar and Google Docs shared folder to store our writing submissions. This works well and gives just in time access for everyone.
What we have learned is logistics make a huge difference in the quality of your meetings and your writing group. Having a central location minimizes the burden on everyone and removes the temptation to stay home by avoiding a long drive. One hidden gem is to always maintain great relationships with the establishment owners and find ways to patronize their business while you are using their space.
Finally, there will be times during your writing group experience where schedules become chaotic. Work and life will try to get in the way of meetings. If you keep the regular frequency of meetings going even if you are missing a couple of members, the group will stay on track. It is important for the sake of the group to address lack of attendance head on and our learning about these type hurdles and more will be discussed in the next series of blogs.