Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Allison: Anatomy of a Writer’s Group

Unlike book groups, writers’ groups did not need the megawatt charisma of talk show goddess Oprah Winfrey to become attractive to the public. In nearly every city and township across this country a group of writers meet periodically – and usually informally – to discuss work written by its members. These groups thrive for one fundamental reason: thousands upon thousands of people love to write.
If you are thinking of creating your own writers group, here are some guidelines:
Size matters. Depending on your temperament, as few as three participants may suffice. However, if you want greater critical mass, as many as twenty members may not be enough. It’s a question of intimacy verses variety, structure versus a free-for-all. Nevertheless, many large groups have been know to divide into cliques, creating a series of micro groups within the macro. So how many members should you have? Eight to twelve participants should be enough to guarantee steady attendance. Remember, count on at least one person having a conflict with any given meeting date. Aim for 90/90 – ninety percent of the writers coming ninety percent of the time. This will create a sense of community and fraternity.
Any place with do for a meeting as land as it holds oxygen and is well lit. For the first few meetings, while everyone is getting to know one another, a public place is best. People feel less intimated and, therefore, more comfortable, if they feel that everyone is on common ground. So start off by meeting at an inexpensive eatery or (weather permitting) a park. Once everyone has warmed up to one another, a dedicated bunch can start rotating households. Members can opt to carpool if one of the writers lives far away. No one person’s house should become the group’s constant meeting place just because it’s convenient.
While hosting a meeting, tend to all pets, spouses, small children, crazy aunts and so on before the meeting begins. Make sure the answering machine is turned on and the television is turned off. If your budget permits, you might want to supply refreshments. No full-course meals, just chips and dips. Writers drink enough coffee in solitude, so try tea. Soda is nice. Wine is even nicer. But always keep in mind that under the influence of alcohol every work sounds Shakespearean and that their is not a social gathering, this is a work party.
Keep thus meeting punchy and on time. The mind can only absorb what the butt cab endure. Less really is more. There is no need for everyone to reminisce about prom night. Aim for two-and-a-half—anything more classifies the meeting as a marathon.
Writing is a calling that spans all ages, sexes, races, religions, and political views. In today’s global mindset, no one group that has the rule if the collective opinion, so why not invite everyone and everybody to your writers’ group. After a few meetings, it will be clear the real thing that separates writers are motivation level and attention to craft, not nationality or income.
Many writers’ groups encourage members to read their copy aloud for group discussion, This works well for performance oriented pieces but for writing that is primarily fir print this could be counterproductive for it interrupts the normal delivery of the text, Circulating advanced copies does get expensive when dissecting larger pieces, but the value of a studied critique is priceless. Some groups do writing exercises at the start or the close of each meeting. This is also an excellent way to bookend the meeting, by having everyone leave with something new to work on for the next session.
Leadership makes a difference. Let’s face it, you started the dang thing, so you’ll probably get stuck with the title, if the group has one. The facilitator’s responsibilities are ever-evolving. The biggest headache is finding the ever elusive meeting date that will satisfy everyone. The group leader must also keep meetings moving by diplomatically squashing side issues about The Apprentice and gas prices. For the good of the whole, the leader needs to be assertive, but don’t expect to be thanked for it. To ensure everyone is respected, be honest without being brutal. Be ever vigilant.
By participating in this communal are of sharing resources, challenging opinions and correcting typos. Writing groups appeal to the novice and experienced alike. It’s a bond like no other.


  1. I agree that when a writing group really works, it's an excellent tool, but it's also a bit like a relationship in the sense that it may take a few tries before you find one right for you. I've had quite a few writing groups that didn't last because of scheduling conflicts and different levels of commitment from each writer. Other times there were personality confilcts, or perhaps one writer didn't take criticism particularly well.

    But it really is worth it. I now have two writing groups, one that has a total for four members, meets once a month and critiques 10,000 words at a time. My other group is the polar opposite. Attendance isn't mandatory, we don't critique work ahead of time but instead do writing exercises on the spot. (I wrote about why this system works for us on my blog,, in case anyone's interested).

    I think once a writer steps outside of the lonesome workspace and finds a great relationship with a group of writers, it makes an immeasurable difference.

  2. This topic must be on a lot minds this week. I also posted about the process of finding a critique group. Finding a good group is a career-changing experience. In a good way ;)

  3. I am a professional writer who has belong to several critique groups over the years. One of them has been in existence since 1953 and requires potential members to apply. These groups have been and are invaluable. I've even written a book about starting and running a writer's critique group based on my experiences for the last umpteen years in these groups. I have also made lifelong friendships there.

    Carol J. Amato

  4. Four of us in the Santa Barbara area just started a critique group and we met for the first time last night. We ate, we talked, we critiqued...I think it's the beginning of a beautiful relationship :)