So You Want to Start a Writing Group…

In 2009 I started my own writing group in Seattle, and then I moved to San Francisco and started another one. Both groups are still going strong four years later. We meet every week and both groups have a revolving cast of about 8 to 10 writers who drop in whenever it’s convenient for them. Most of us have become lifelong friends along the way, supporting each other through finishing that first manuscript and then trudging through the long process of finding an agent.

Oakland Fairies

We use the format of timed writing. That means we meet specifically to write together for one hour. This is actually a very easy and fun format to maintain, because members don’t have to do any work outside of the group and it’s not necessary for them to make every meeting.

We ask people to show up by 6:30pm if they want to be part of it, and then at 6:30 on the dot we start writing together silently. At the end of the hour one of us calls the time. It’s super easy. So easy, that you can start a group like this too. And there’s only one secret:

Flexibility

Here’s your quick-and-dirty list of tips on building a timed-writing group with maximum flexibility:

Be Flexible on Location
If a member of the group is willing to open their home for your meetings, or you’re okay with having it at your house, cool. If not, pick a café that has big tables, decent food and coffee, and won’t mind your group planting themselves there for a few hours. Test drive the place for a couple weeks and then decide if it’s a keeper. If you’ve met at one location for a few weeks and it’s just doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to change it up and try somewhere new.

Be Flexible on Number of Members
I started my writing group with just one other person. The two of us met for weeks before we found a third, and then a fourth, and finally things took off from there. You don’t need an army to start your own timed-writing group, you just need ONE other person. And if your one other person can’t make it some week and you still want to write, show up anyway. In the early weeks of getting the group off the ground, someone has to hold vigil.

Be Flexible on Admission Requirements
Some writing groups are geared toward specific genres, and that’s great if you already know a few other writers who are writing in your vein. But if you’re starting from scratch, and the goal of the group is to sit and do timed writing hours together, it’s really not essential that everyone be writing the same sort of stuff. An example of some of the writers in my current writing group include: a fantasy writer, a screenplay writer, a poet, and me, who concentrates on literary fiction. Since the goal of our group is to complete an hour of writing together and give each other emotional support, we have a lot of freedom when it comes to the different types of writers that can join the group.

We also keep our attitude casual—writers can come whenever it is convenient for them, and the group is absolutely free of charge to join. Time and money are two of the stickiest obstacles that tend to hold people back from achieving their goals, so by welcoming writers who show up whenever they can and charging nothing, we knock out both of the time-and-money hurdles in one blow.

Be Flexible on Expectations
I’ve been attending weekly writing group meetings for over four years now, and no two meetings are alike. Sometimes it’s just me and one other person sitting quietly, and sometimes all of our regular members show up plus some new people and we have to scramble to push tables together and find extra pens. Sometimes the mood is light, with people cracking jokes or telling embarrassing stories, and sometimes one of us just suffered a serious setback and needs a listening ear. You never know what you’re going to get until you show up. So go into every meeting with only one expectation: You will get some writing done.

Okay, so you’ve got this breezy new attitude of flexibility and open expectations, and a game plan of when to meet and where—but how do you find writers who want to be part of your writing group? We’ll cover who to look for and how to find them next post, and rest assured, it’s easier than you think.

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