As a writer, I attend a few conferences each year, and one frequent comment I hear is: “I wish there were a writing group in my area.” My first question is if they’ve checked local resources like the library or searched online to see if there are groups in their area. If there aren’t any groups available, I start talking about how to start a writing group.
Writing can be a very lonely sometimes. Joining or starting a group is a great way not only to combat the loneliness of scratching out words all day. Groups are a terrific way to gain valuable insight into your work. Once you’ve decided to start a group, you need to find other writers, set a place and time to meet, help define group goals, and figure out what role, if any, technology will have in your group. Seriously, friends don’t let friends write alone.
Find Other Writers
The hardest part of figuring out how to start a writing group is finding other interested writers. Writers can be funny creatures. We know we like to write, but we assume nobody around us enjoys the same thing. We’re often wrong.
To help find other writers, visit your local library or bookstore. Look for a community bulletin board or ask if you can put up a flyer announcing your efforts to create a group. Ask if there are book clubs, author readings or signings, or open mic nights happening. Writers and readers alike attend those type of events and could be an excellent source for finding people interested in a writing group.
If you don’t have a lot of luck finding people or events at your local library or bookshop, then turn to your social media accounts. The people you interact with may not be writers, but they very well could be friends with other writers and can pass the word on for you. You can also try searching for online writing groups and forums for local members who would like to meet up “in real life” to write together.
Set a Place and Time to Meet
You’ve found some people; now the next challenge is establishing a place and time to meet for the first couple of meetings. As the person driving the formation of the group, it is up to you. Ask questions to understand where people live or work and what their schedules are.
For places, the balance is going to be finding a geographical area that is convenient for everyone and then an actual place in that area where a small group can meet and work. Not to sound like a broken record, but your best starting point is your local library or bookstore. Does your library have a community room you can use for free (or low cost)? Talk to the manager or owner of your local bookstore to see if they would be willing to provide space for a small group to meet.
Next, think about the public places like coffee shops and restaurants. Look for sites that have plenty of seating and a floor plan that would allow your group to be off to the side. If you are going to a coffee shop or restaurant, be considerate: buy something, don’t go during the peak business hours, let the waiter or waitress know what you are doing, tip generously, and don’t linger after closing time.
Some other good ideas for places to meet could be town community centers, conference or meeting rooms at hotels (negotiate the price of renting the room), churches, or someone’s home if they are willing to host the group.
Once the meeting place is locked in, select a day and time. This is usually much easier to figure out if you’ve asked people for their availability. The trick here is that you may not be able to satisfy everyone, and you will have to pick the day and time that works best for the majority of those interested. Remind people they can always show up late or leave early if they have to do so. This isn’t school or work.
Don’t forget to talk about how frequently the group will meet. Typically, most interest and hobby groups meet one or two times a month.
Defining your group goals
Once you’ve figured out how to start a writing group and you have a few regulars, talk about what you each want from a group. Writing groups come in all different sizes and formats. There isn’t a wrong or right way to run a writing group. Discussing expectation for the group is vital to helping the group thrive and establish a goal-friendly format.
During the first or second meeting open up the conversation to make sure everyone has a chance to share their opinion. Knowing what each person is looking for can help shape the goals of the group and help people decide if the group is the best use of their time. For example, if the group mostly wants to read and critique each other’s work, someone who is only interested in marketing an already published novel may not be a good fit.
For example, I belong to two local writing groups. The first group formed because of a comment on the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) forums. A librarian at my local branch library was participating in NaNoWriMo and asked if anyone wanted to come to write with her. Over time, there were about 10-12 people who showed up on a regular basis and a group was born. This group focuses on learning about the craft of writing and meets once a month.
I joined the second group to get different perspectives. The second group had already been around for a few years. The members of this group are more active in the literary community and focus more on critiquing each other’s works in progress. Both are excellent resources and provide me with very different things.
How Technology Can Help (and Hurt)
While I would strongly suggest a face-to-face meeting at least once a month, you can always set up groups on social media or use file sharing platforms to read, edit, and critique each other’s work between meetings. Facebook allows users to set up a group page that can be restricted or secret to keep membership limited to just your writing group members. Other options may be Skype, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), and much more.
What resource you use will largely depend on the tech-savviness of those in your group. Make sure you have a way for all member to connect with each other between meetings; not doing this can alienate those are not as comfortable with technology.
Going back to selecting a place, the availability of WiFi may also be a consideration. If members of the group need WiFi to access files on cloud drives or to have online resources, you may need to call that out up front so they can be prepared. Most of the time WiFi access, or lack thereof, won’t be a deal breaker, but it may reduce some frustration.
Also, gently remind those who prefer to laptops and devices to make sure they are adequately charged in case electrical outlets aren’t available or convenient. Maybe even suggest some old school backups like pen and paper.
Figuring out how to start a writing group can be a challenge. The first few meetings may be small—like only you showed up small. Don’t give up. Keep trying and reaching out to the other writers in your area. Your group may just be you and one or two other people, and that’s fine. The key is having like-minded people to talk to about writing to help each other improve.
Wishing for a group won’t get a group started! Take charge and start your group.