How NOT to Start a Writers’ Group

This guy started a writers' group and it was a pain in the ass. He should've listened to me.

Last time I offered some good reasons to start a writers’ group. I promised that in this post I would tell you how to start a writers’ group of your very own.

I lied.

Because you’re reading this blog, I assume you know how to use the internet. I can also assume that, if you’re actually interested in starting a writers’ group, you’ve already googled this topic. Maybe you found some solid, step-by-step information.  Maybe you’ve already developed a plan. Maybe you’re as confused as me regarding correct apostrophe placement in ‘writer.’

What I’m saying is this: no need to reinvent the wheel. You know what you need to do. Find some people, set a time, and get critiquing! Plenty of other people can give you basic information on how to start a writers’ group.

Better Writing Month moleskine notebook banner

However, they might fail to tell you the factors that can make your writers’ group a complete and utter pain in the ass. I will 😉 Here we go…

How NOT to Start (and Run) a Writers’ Group

  • Welcome everyone. Use the interwebs to find anyone who might remotely be interested in writing. Don’t ask for referrals or recommendations or especially writing samples. Go for mass!
  • Don’t worry about ability levels. Even really advanced writers can learn from novices. And anyone can write, right? Like, you just make some sentences about this weird dream you had…
  • Any kind of writing is welcome. Putting poets, screenwriters, content jockeys, and fiction writers together is a smashing idea. Everyone can learn from each other. What screenwriter can’t benefit from critiquing a thirty page epic about a washing machine?
  • Be forgiving of the perpetually late. People lead  hectic lives, cut them some slack. I mean, think of all the story ideas you’ll have while you’re sitting there…waiting.
  • Keep things open. Don’t worry about general critique guidelines or time limits. Let people talk as long as they want about whatever they want. Nobody does anything in the evenings anyway.
  • Never kick anyone out. Be gracious. Let people be who they are. It takes all kinds, right?
  • Take time for printing. When people forget their stories, give them plenty of time to run down the street and print them out. No one should be penalized for a common mistake. You can wait. Remember what we said about waiting?
  • Take time for reading. If somebody forgets to read a piece, that’s okay. They can read while others are giving feedback.
  • Defend your work against every assault. Your work is as precious as a taxidermied kitten. You can’t just let people tear it apart. Defend it with all your heart!
  • Meet in pubs. The noisier and smokier the better. Drink hard liquor. Order greasy food and use all those printed pages as your napkins. Nobody will read your feedback anyway.
  • Borrow pens. You’re meeting with people who write. Someone will have an extra one. No worries!

Okay, okay, I’m finished. I try and avoid needless sarcasm here at Happenchance, but I must admit that was fun to write. And since you made it this far, here are some (non-sarcastic) creative techniques to help you start and run a happy and productive writers’ group.

  • Critiques must remain civil and friendly! Constructive feedback works. Everyone wants the same thing: to improve their writing. That is best accomplished by offering meaningful, thoughtful criticism and feedback. If you don’t like something, that’s cool, taste is subjective, but you must be diplomatic. Offer a reason for your distaste as as well as offer a suggestion for improvement.
  • I don’t think reading complete works aloud is a good way to spend time (unless it’s a poetry group). Take-home critiques are the way to go.
  • Everybody has their own critique style, but some things to look for are effective characterization, dialogue, plot, setting, and visceral effect.
  • While getting feedback, the author should just chill and listen. After everybody has said what they wanted to say, the author can respond to comments and ask questions. I think feedback works well when a dialog goes on between the people giving feedback; rather than talking to the author, they talk to each other.
  • Time will tell whether or not you’ll need time limits for each critique. Do have a definite end time.
  • Three to one is a good general guideline for critiques; three parts critique: “I think this could be better…”  to one part:”that rocked my socks because…”
  • I believe it’s best to approach a piece from a Death of the Author perspective; at least pretend the created work is separate from the creator. Don’t worry about the author’s identity, background, experiences, etc.
  • Remember that writers’ groups run off goodwill and reciprocity like a car runs off gas. If you want good feedback, you need to give good feedback.
  • Meeting in pubs is okay, but remember your primary mission.
  • Bring extra pens.

That’s it! I hope you find these tips useful. This almost wraps up better writing month. I’ve got one more post to share, and I think you’re going to like it. If you enjoyed this fine post, join Happenchance on Facebook, subscribe to Happenchance for more creative techniques, or hit one of the social media buttons below to share it with your friends. You know they’ll appreciate it.

Photo credit: Music2work2

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • JA Lineberry April 30, 2010, 7:13 pm

    I like the idea of a writers’ group. I’ve never actually been part of one, but I have had a couple of close friends over the years who would trade stories with me. In recent years, less and less gets done. My creative fiction now consists mostly of pulling essays out of my ass the night before they’re due. I have it down to a science.

  • Seth May 3, 2010, 7:46 am

    Hey JA,
    Sometimes those last-minute essays are the best kind. But seriously, if you want to do any fiction, I would recommend starting or finding one. Take care.