How to Run a Writing Group: Could You Give Me a Jump?

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.

Keeping Creative Ideas Flowing

what are word for?

(Photo credit: Darwin Bell)

Many writers have a love/hate relationship with their craft. When things are going well, the creative rush propels you along effortlessly. When things are not going well, squeezing out words feels like you’re trying to pour cold molasses.

One method my writing group uses to jump-start the writing process during those inevitable dry spells is something we call “keyword exercises.” The idea is this: If someone has developed a case of creative constipation or is otherwise stuck between writing projects, we ask that they write a short piece based on a particular word. The words are usually chosen at random, and the writing could either incorporate the word directly or simply be inspired in some way by the word itself. The goal is to write at least one page about something—anything—because we think that writing something is infinitely more beneficial than writing nothing at all.

The results of these exercises are interesting to read, with the products ranging from rants about personal pet-peeves to full-blown poems or short stories. We’ve sometimes challenged each other to write material in a new genre, or we will place limits on the parameters of the piece (such as writing an entire narrative using only one-syllable words). In fact, these self-imposed limitations often elicit the most creative responses.

There are plenty of variations on these sorts of writing exercises. For example, instead of choosing words at random, we will sometimes generate lists of nouns, verbs, or adjectives and develop those words into a passage of writing. Other times, we pick words from different categories (such as character types, occupations, locations, and situations) and craft those combinations into short scenes or vignettes. Online resources such as name generators and tagline creators are also helpful for compiling these sorts of lists, and some programs will even create plot scenarios for fiction writing.

Another springboard we have used to aid our creative processes is a method inspired by the authors of The Chopin Manuscript (published in 2008). This suspense novel was a collaborative effort of fifteen thriller authors. Jeffery Deaver created the initial characters and set the story in motion, and the other authors each carried the story forward by writing the subsequent chapters. Our writing group did two renditions of this, and you can check both our first Cakepan Manuscript and second Cakepan Manuscript on our blog. 

Even for the most skilled wordsmiths, writing is seldom easy. Our writing group has been fortunate enough to find several useful exercises that have seen us through many barren seasons in the creative desert. But as one of our members likes to say, writing is a lot like pushing a stalled truck down the road. The hardest part is getting started. After that, it’s all about maintaining the momentum.

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About Scott Shields

Years ago, I left the Midwest for the deserts of Arizona. Since then, I have worked in the grocery business and as a high school English teacher. Literature and writing are my passions, and I try to share my love of the written word with my students each day.

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