A writers group offers many advantages: constructive criticism of your writing, moral support from fellow writers, even the opportunity to discuss issues related to writing—finding editors, getting published, and promoting your work on social media. You can find virtual writers groups that allow authors in many different locations to communicate regularly with one another via the Internet. But what if you want some face time with other authors, and there aren’t any local writing groups near you? What do you do? Start a writers group!
Here are 8 steps to starting a successful writers group:
Step 1: Write a Mission Statement. Tailor the mission statement so it addresses the purpose and parameters of the group and attracts like-minded writers. For example: “The purpose of XYZ Writers Group is to improve the quality of the fiction writing of its members, and to provide guidance on and share knowledge of the writing and publishing industries, all in a supportive and encouraging environment.”
Step 2: Be Sure You Have the Time to Commit. Before you start recruiting members, make sure you have enough time available in your schedule to get the group off the ground, keep it running, and do all the ongoing reading that will be required. Sit down and write out a time budget. How many hours do you have to spend on the start-up? How many hours a week will it take to read the other members’ work? How many hours will you spend in ongoing administration? If the numbers add up to more time than you’re truly able to dedicate, you may want to consider joining an already existing writers group. Or you might want to switch tactics and work with a single critique partner.
Step 3: Get the Word Out and Find Members. Consider placing a classified ad in a local paper, and spread the word via an active presence on Twitter. Set up a page for your group on Facebook and keep it current. You might also want to consider creating a group using Meetup.com. You’ll have a core group of interested writers before you know it! Just be sure to cap your membership at a number that makes you comfortable.
Step 4: Choose a Meeting Site. Choose a site that is centrally located, and make sure there is ample free parking. Select a quiet place where the group can talk freely without being interrupted. A conference room at a library or a corner of a willing bookstore fits the bill.
Step 5: Set the Meeting Time. Having a regularly scheduled meeting time, such as the first Wednesday of the month from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., encourages participation. Let members know that attendance is important! If it seems a writer isn’t taking his or her involvement in the critique group seriously, you may ask that person to make way for someone who has more time and focus to devote to the group.
Step 6: Implement a Process for Pre-Meeting Prep and Communication. Communicate using a set schedule: Advise anyone who will be submitting manuscripts for critique to send the work to you at least four days before the meeting. Then, email the work to group members at least three days before you meet. Be sure you use the BCC feature of your email to maintain privacy for the group members.
Step 7: Establish Meeting Guidelines. It’s a good idea to list the basic rules regarding how members should prepare for meetings and the type of behavior that is expected or to be avoided (no bad critiques!). Successful meetings—those where people are engaged and participating—tend to take on a life of their own and sometimes lose focus. Have a printed agenda for each meeting and a designated moderator/timer to keep the session on track.
Step 8: Continually Evaluate and Renew. As time goes on, regularly reevaluate how the group is working. Is it meeting each member’s needs? Canvass the group regularly; ask members how the meetings and procedures could be improved.
A good writers group combines the best elements of a high-level writing seminar with a positive support group. Properly set up and managed, your writers group will last a long time. If you don’t already belong to a writers group, start one today—and let us know about it! We’d love to add your group to our list of writers groups in America.