How to Run a Writing Group: Gathering Members

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

Image by Evelyn Saenz

Image by Evelyn Saenz

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.

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How to Run a Writing Group: Define your Goals

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

Memories by Silvia Viñuales

Memories by Silvia Viñuales

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.