How to Run a Successful Writing Group
So you’ve set up your writing group. Now what?
Whether your group is newly formed, or perhaps it’s been running for a while, here are some ideas that can help you inject creative energy.
1. Create the right atmosphere
In order to get into the right creative space, you need to feel at ease with your fellow writers. Make sure new members are welcomed and introduced. And get everyone to say something in the big group at the beginning of every meeting so all members feel involved from the start.
Beginnings to break the ice could be :
- One good thing that’s happened for me in the last seven days
- One thing I’m looking forward to this weekend
- One accomplishment achieved in the last seven days (could be anything from cooking a curry to climbing a mountain).
- One new thing I’ve tried – it doesn’t matter whether it succeeded.
2. Have an agenda
An agenda that roughly follows the same formula each time means people will know what to expect.
You have options but it could look something like this:
- Welcome everyone and do a round the table check in (see above) that allows everyone chance to say something. This could include brief introductions if there are new members.
- The secretary or person in charge of correspondence gives news of writing events, courses, competitions that have arrived via post or email. Members add whatever they have heard of or spotted in magazines.
- A short spontaneous warm up writing exercise with read backs
- Refreshment break for informal friendly chat
- Read backs and feedback of pieces people have written at home. Or a group exercise designed to develop some specific writing skill with read backs.
- Anything else anyone wants to raise and date and time of next meeting.
3. Start on time and end on time
This will encourage latecomers to be prompt and enable members to plan the rest of their day or evening.
4. Share the organising
If one person does everything, the burden is awesome. Eventually you might consider appointing different people to share out the tasks.
These might include
- Secretary – a named person to receive and deal with correspondence and prepare agenda
- Someone to send out reminders of meetings. This could be the Secretary or a different person
- Facilitator to set exercises (or this might change for each meeting)
- Refreshments organiser
- Membership organiser – the role could be combined with…
- Treasurer/Accounts organiser to open bank account and collect fees, pay venue hire if necessary. Some libraries may lend you a room without charge
- Resources and library manager to look after any writing books purchased and owned by the group
- Events organiser to plan days out, theatre visits, invite visiting speakers/tutors depending on how social you want to be.
5. Set stimulating exercises
Some sources of ideas
- Beg, borrow or buy writing books and look for exercises that will develop specific skills. Try the library, bookshops, charity shops, Amazon and writer friends who may be clearing their shelves.
- Google ‘writing exercises for groups’. There are lots of ideas available free on the internet.
- Use old photographs of places or people, song titles, imaginary dialogue between two characters drawn out of a hat to trigger a story. Be creative. And enjoy!
Recommended books for writing exercises:
The Creative Writing Handbook
The Five Minute Writer
Taking Reality by Surprise
What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers
The Writer’s Block
The Writer’s Idea Book
6. Give honest feedback
One of the reasons people join a writing group is so they can have access to honest feedback. But they often report that their fellow-writers are either too nice or too negative about each other’s work. Both types of feedback can be equally unhelpful.
- Too nice is bland, boring and gives the writer no feeling of honest appreciation when they do produce something that is genuinely good.
- Too negative is discouraging and disheartening.
- What’s needed instead is a positive atmosphere in the sessions that evokes honest, sensitive and respectful feedback. Comments should be constructive and a good formula to follow is two positives and a negative.
- For instance, “I really liked the way your piece evoked atmosphere of the place (positive). And you built up a feeling of suspense and tension very well (positive). I think the dialogue could reveal a little more of the difficulties of the relationship, rather than using the narrative text to highlight the problems.
If people find it difficult to give feedback, brainstorm a list of criteria you might look at when evaluating a piece of writing and display it prominently. It might include:
- Does it begin well?
- What emotion/s does it evoke?
- What particular words or phrases do you remember?
- How do you personally relate to the piece?
You might consider appointing the two people sitting next to the reader to take responsibility for giving feedback before opening it up to the group.
Remember most writers have delicate egos and are fairly quick to criticise their own work. So you might introduce a ground rule that no one should be negative about their own writing, or apologise for what they read out. This will help generate a more positive atmosphere.
7. Celebrate your successes
When one of your members wins an award or a competition, or gets published in any small or major way, make it an excuse for celebration. A round of applause, a shared cake or bottle of bubbly. Do whatever works. And encourage your writers to aim for the stars. Who knows – one of them might be the author of the next best-seller.
For information on inviting Judi to run a session at your writing group, click here