Yesterday at the Chestnut Hill Book Festival in Philadelphia, I presented a workshop on Starting a Writers Workshop. Below are some of the questions asked by the group to me, or by me to the group, on the topic of writers groups.
What are you looking for in a writers group?
This is ground zero for a writer seeking the group experience. Some self-examination is crucial before you begin the search for an existing group or dive into forming one of your own. Are you looking for feedback on your work? Are you searching for like-minded people to discuss the writing life? Do you want some help in sparking your creative processes? Do you want a spiritual rather than hands-on experience?
You can’t address your wants and needs if you do not define them, first to yourself and then to others. Ergo, the first thing to do is to complete this sentence, “As a writer, I am seeking a group that will ___________________.”
What are different types of writers groups?
These are my own names and definitions, but here’s an idea of various group types:
CRITIQUE GROUP: writers meet to exchange and evaluate one another’s work.
WRITERS GROUP: a support or inspirational group that meets to discuss aspects of writing: the craft, the state of the business, the state of your writing, opportunities for publishing.
WRITING GROUP: meets to write. Members can do specific writing activities using free write prompts, exercises, themes and so on, or members can meet and do quiet writing on their own projects.
WRITERS WORKSHOP: members meet for classes or courses, taught by other members or by guest speakers, on craft, promotion, publishing, etc.
How long are you committed to a group?
As with the above, there are different answers to this question. Groups can meet indefinitely, or for a specified time. This most often applies to critique groups. Some options:
LONG TERM: This group meets for as long as the writers want to participate, with no set ending date or goal. I like to call this an Infinity Group.
PROJECT SPECIFIC: This group meets for a specified amount of time, to help writers critique a particular work. For instance, four writers with completed manuscripts may meet once a month for a year, to critique one another’s manuscripts. At the end of the year, the group may disband, or start all over again with a new project and timeline.
BOOT CAMP: This is a project specific group on speed. Small group of writers meets over a few weeks or a couple months (often in summer) for an intense review/critique period.
How do you find existing groups?
Seek and you shall find. Try the library, professional workshops, writing courses, bookstores, universities, arts organizations, professional genre organizations, online groups, word of mouth. Go where writers hang out and ask around.
Joining an existing group has pros and cons. Pros are that the rules are set and you join and follow them. Like anything else, joining a group as a newbie can be a challenge.
How do I start my own group?
First, ask yourself the question above: What do you want from a writers group? After you’ve answered that, start hunting for fellow writers. Before the first official meeting, have a planning meeting to decide the details: How often will you meet? Where will you meet? Do you want peer level members (meaning, everyone is published, or everyone is new) or is a mix okay? How many members? If you submit, how many pages, how often, how will the pages be distributed? Will there be a leader?
What destroys a writers group?
The devil is in the details, as they say. Good groups are destroyed by not having a set meeting time and place; by not having regular attendees; by not having a time monitor so a group may spend 45 minutes on one story and 10 on another; by an overbearing or a difficult member; by members who want different things from the group; by members who won’t, or can’t, critique work in different genres; by having too many members. This is why being upfront with your expectations is important. If a new group has a planning meeting and everyone is in sync about what they want and how meetings will be run, and the members respect that, you can have a successful, helpful group.
What about online options?
Many writers participate in online support groups, and/or manuscript exchanges with writers they’ve never met in person. Lots of professional organizations (Sisters in Crime, SCBWI, Pennwriters, Romance Writers of America) have list serves for discussion and critique programs for their members. Do some research in your genre.
If you are looking for a writers group, there are many out there. Be assertive. Understand what you want and seek out like minds. Good luck!