Monthly Archives

April 2013

How to Populate Your New Writing Group

RobotOkay, so you’ve decided you want to start a writing group, you’ve picked a good café, and you’re excited and ready to roll. As I’ve mentioned, I started my writing group with just one other person. But ultimately, it’s ideal to have at least a few people showing up every week to make a group. You get multiple points of view going, and multiple streams of personal support. Plus, it’s just more fun. It starts to feel more like a party than a partnership.

But where do you find your fellow writers?

Right in front of you. You just have to know where to look.

If you live in a small town, I suggest taking out your own ad in the Community section for your metropolitan area. You can post in Activities, Artists, General and/or Groups. I’ve found the most success with Activities and Groups.

If you live in a large city, it’s sometimes more helpful to comb through the ads already out there. I’ve found a few of our new members by checking that same Community section (Activities, Artists, General and/or Groups) and just typing “writer” or “writing” in the search box. It’s kind of incredible how many cool people are out there looking for writing support. And even if people are specifically looking for a critique group or just a writing partner, I’ll shoot them an email anyway and let them know they’re free to stop by our group and check it out.

Meetup is really nice because you can easily create your own group page, add your group description, meeting dates and times, and a list of members. Anytime someone visits Meetup and searches on your city using keywords like “writing” or “writers” your group will come up.

And if you’re having trouble drawing members on Meetup, some cities have timed-writing groups already up and running. You can sign up and then drop by in person to get ideas of how you’d like to run your group, and also meet potential writer friends. Shut Up and Write is an example of an excellent group offered in places like San Francisco, Silicon Valley, New York, and Austin. (Please note that they do ask you to RSVP and make the commitment to show up if you choose to attend one of their meetings.)

In Person
Writers and books are like seagulls and popcorn. If you go anywhere with a high concentration of books, you greatly increase your chances of running into a flock of writers. But keep in mind that some reader attractions require silence and hush (like libraries and author events), while others are more conducive to making new writer friends. You want to go to the book events where it’s easy to strike up a conversation with strangers—like book sales, library fundraisers, and open mic poetry nights at your local pub.

Once you run into someone who seems cool, just ask them who their favorite writer is. And then ask them if they’re a writer. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to break the ice this way.

Tap Your Existing Friends
If anyone you know is a writer, obviously extend the invite to join your group right away. And if it’s someone you trust, ask them if they would be interested in leading it with you. Ask your other friends about their friends, and their relatives, and the people they work with. Ask them if they know anyone they like and can recommend who is a writer. Tell your contacts to put the word out. Send out a mass email to your mailing list. Don’t be shy and don’t spam people. Just nicely ask around to see who’s interested.

Your writing group will be a major source of support and inspiration to you. And once you’ve found your tribe, the only thing left to do is write your book. It’ll be a long crazy journey, but starting this week I’ll be posting all about how to get through it. With a writing group, you’ll find others who want to get through it together.

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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:


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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Should You Join a Writing Group?

SAMSUNGThe benefits of a writing group depend on the type of group you join. Most writers think of critique when they think of a writing group, but that doesn’t always have to be the case. If you live in a big city, you probably have a lot of choices when it comes to picking a group. But if you live in a more rural area, you might have to create your own. So how do you know what’s right for you? You start by listing your needs.

Are you looking for emotional support or a ruthless deconstruction of your text? Do you have to meet face-to-face or would an online forum work for you? Make a list of your top five must-haves in a writing group and go from there.

Here’s a quick list of the most popular types of writing groups:

The Critique Group
Most critique groups meet in person, but some do online work too. Critique groups meet regularly, with members making the commitment to bring their own work ready to submit to the group, as well as the willingness to read someone else’s work and give constructive feedback. Most critique groups meet on at least a monthly basis. Writers are expected to do some work outside the group, as being a member means taking home the work of others, reading it thoroughly, and then making comments and suggestions for improvement.

If you’re at the stage where you have a finished rough draft of something and you’re looking for honest feedback from objective readers, this could be the group for you. Or if you thrive on deadlines the promise to submit your work to the group might keep you accountable. However, critique groups usually look for commitment from their writers and prefer members who have the intention to stick around. If you have very little time to give, or you may not be able to make the meetings regularly, this probably isn’t a great choice for you.

The Reading Circle
Reading circles usually meet weekly or monthly and everyone brings something to read out loud. After a writer takes their turn reading their piece, the group gives their reaction to it and feedback. Since the writer presents their work in the moment it’s a little more casual than the critique group, and the feedback is usually not as detailed as you might find through critique.

Many reading circles are based on specific genres of writing. For instance, the San Francisco Center for Sex & Culture holds an erotic reading circle every month, and all fiction shared is erotic in theme. If you’re working within a specific genre and you’re looking for that genre’s specific audience, the reading circle format could work out very well for you. You have the opportunity to connect with like-minded writers and potential fans. And if you’re crunched for time, it’s convenient too. Most reading circles are just fine about writers and readers dropping in whenever they can make it.

The Support Network
If you’re lucky enough to have a few awesome writer friends, you can really benefit emotionally from getting together with them once a month, or once a week, for coffee or beers or just to sit in the park and catch up. Every writer needs someone to talk shop with—and no one understands what you’re going through like a fellow writer. Whether you have exciting news to share (someone’s finally interested in that story you’ve been shopping around!) or you need someone to commiserate with (you thought you were totally done with your book but now realize you have to write five more chapters), meeting with other writers is immeasurably helpful for your morale.

And if you happen to be a writer who doesn’t have any other friends who are also writers, it’s time to make some. Put out an ad on Craigslist, start a Meetup group—stand on the street corner with a sign if you have to—but make those connections. Your writer friends are going to be one of your most valuable resources.

The Timed Writing Group
This is the type of writing group I belong to and I can’t recommend it highly enough. My group meets at a café once a week and we sit together and write for one hour. We take a break, and then we write for another hour. The leader of the group uses a timer and tells us when to begin and when the hour’s up. The main focus of the group is to sit your butt in the chair and devote a whole hour to your writing, even if you’re not feeling particularly inspired. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat there for 20 or 30 minutes staring at a blank page and then been hit with inspiration. I don’t have the discipline to force myself to sit there for that long and slog it out if I’m by myself at home. Something about being surrounded by other writers, slogging it out too, acts like a form of positive peer pressure. After a while, something always comes.

The timed writing group can integrate elements of all the other groups too, if the members decide that’s what they want. Work can be exchanged for critique, or read out loud after the timed hour, and members will more than likely end up friends. That’s what happened with our group.

Even though writers do our most important work up in our heads, we still need community. Joining a writing group can be one of the best decisions you can make for your overall writing health. So what do you do if the writing group you want to join doesn’t exist yet or doesn’t have an open slot for any new writers? You start your own group. Next week I’ll talk about exactly how you can do this no matter where you live or how many other writers you currently know.

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