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So You Want to Start a Writer's Group
March 3, 2017
Writing's a solitary activity, right?
No, it ain't!
Yes, writing involves a lot of alone––splitting time between tapping keys and wiping tears off them (both happy and sad)––but no expertise is ever gained in a vacuum. We all need feedback from people who love the craft––and your wife and your mother and your sister, all kind souls certainly––don't count.
A brief aside for props first: This post is inspired by an event with Lit-Cleveland I attended last Tuesday. The theme was what goes into a good writer's group and how to start one, but it was a mixer and a networking opportunity. I met a journalist, a writing contest winner, and a person who enjoys oral storytelling, among others. I'm already Facebook friends with the journalist, who's willing to help me with my non-fiction interest. And I'm looking forward to joining Laurel for the.oral storytelling, because it sounds like fun –– and it can only open me up to new levels of creativity.
Back to the main course: There were seven points that were clearly articulated as features of good writer's groups:
1. Good-sized writer's groups should be three to five people.
2. Meet like clockwork, once a month.
3. Send your work out for critique two weeks before the meeting.
4. The work should be limited to ten pages, or 2,500 words.
5. While meeting, focus on feedback. Minimal chitchat.
6. Aside from answering questions, the person being critiqued should not speak.
7. The meeting should be no more than two to three hours long.
8. The members should be like-minded
9. Always come from a place of respect and compassion.
All of that is really the "how" for the "what": taking writing seriously, staying focused, and respecting your friends’ time.
Let’s face it, anyone who’s been in a meeting knows you can’t stay focused beyond an hour or two. We also know that when we’re distracted, our minds tend to wander. Our best work is done when we’re focused on the task at hand.
That doesn’t mean that these things need to be treated like a seminar at mortuary school. Far from it! Have fun! Be creative –– that’s what you’re all there for! Just be creative for the person who’s being critiqued, and be present and positive for him or her in that moment.
Writer’s groups should be no more than three to five people for that reason, too. Most of us have jobs; critiquing three to five other people’s work two weeks before a meeting means completing a critique of work every three or so days during those two weeks. That’s time spent away from Game of Thrones and family, in that order. More is too much for most of us. Ditto for the number of words per submission.
Being focused doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. Not at all! It just means you’re keeping your mind on the task at hand, and a little bit of humor keeps things relaxed, open, creative, and memorable.
That’s all there is to it. And forming a writer’s group is as easy as doing some networking and inviting people to a meeting, then you’re well on your way. That’s where “like-minded” comes in. As the person forming the new group, you have an idea of what your goals are, how you envision the group dynamic will go, and what kinds of personalities and interests will fit. Subconsciously or consciously, that’s what you’re doing. And that's fine.
That’s what I got from the meeting. I’ve been thinking what I’d want from MY group if I were to start one, and it’d be all of the above, but I also envision encouraging the bringing in of guest speakers, doing presentations on books or techniques you admired and why, etc.
Feedback is crucial to a writer, and good feedback only comes from meeting with other writers once a month. Mom’s supportive, but she won’t be able to help you break down the plot and/or why the scene with the weasel just doesn’t work. If you can join a writer’s group, do; they’re out there; if you can’t, consider founding one. There’s no better way to get that novel out of the drawer and into a publisher’s hands.