How to Start a Writing Group – Don’t Be Lonely

Writing can be a very lonely sometimes. Joining or starting a group is a great way to combat the loneliness of scratching out words all day. Groups are a terrific way to gain valuable insight into your work. I attend various writing events 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 for their area. If there aren’t any groups available, I start talking about how to start a writing group.

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. 

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. Wrong! 

Visit your local library or bookstore and check out the 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

Once you find some people, the next challenge is setting a place and time to meet. 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. Understand that you may not find a common day or time that pleases everyone. 

Balance finding a geographical area that is convenient for everyone and 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. Be flexible with the times and encourage people to join late or leave early if they have to do so. This isn’t school or work.

Defining your group goals

Take the time to talk as a group to 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 expectations for the group is vital to the long term success of the group.

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.

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. Groups focused on critique will sometimes meet weekly and share their work in advance through email or cloud drive.

How Technology Can Help (and Hurt)

In addition to using technology to share work, it can also be helpful in establishing groups in more remote areas or where no other group fitting your needs exists. I suggest a face-to-face meeting at least once a month. If that truly isn’t possible, social media groups or file sharing platforms to read, edit, and critique each other’s work can be a great alternative. 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 members to connect with each other; 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. Seriously, friends don’t let friends write alone.

Get Your Prompts Here!

The creativity jump starters below were borrowed from Eva Deverell’s site (https://www.eadeverell.com/100-days-flash-fiction-prompts/). I did take the liberty of changing the order, a word here or there, and added a couple “feel free to” directions. My reordered version appeared on Write the First Word’s Facebook Page during the launch of that page.

Take a look and most of all ENJOY!

Suggestions: Keep all of your pieces in the same folder or notebook. Close your eyes and think about the prompt for a few minutes. Challenge yourself to go beyond the first thing or obvious thing you think of when you write.

The Prompts:

  • Day 1: Write a story that begins and ends with a bicycle.
  • Day 2: “Please shut the…” *Bonus challenge–don’t use the door, window, or curtains/drapes.
  • Day 3: A single lily, a cliff, and three hours.
  • Day 4: Use this line: “His wife was having tea with the King and he didn’t even know about it.”
  • Day 5: Use each thing in your story: a light-tent, an actress, and two worlds.
  • Day 6: Story sandwich. Remember, don’t overthink it. If you can’t work up a story or poem, start making lists about what the phrase means to you.
  • Day 7: Someone goes to extreme lengths to return something he/she borrowed.
  • Day 8: “Smoke hung so thick in the library’s rafters that she couldn’t read words in it.”
  • Day 9: A story entitled “The Fate of the Telegraph Operator.”
  • Day 10: “The floor tasted like…”
  • Day 11: Sitting in a language class for aliens.
  • Day 12: A story about someone who is obsessed with marmalade. Feel free to substitute another food item in place of the marmalade.
  • Day 13: A balloon, a ball, and balustrades.
  • Day 14: An impulse buy leads to intergalactic warfare.
  • Day 15: Steampunk sleeping beauty. Feel free to substitute another fairy tale character in place of sleeping beauty.
  • Day 16: “There were 48,000 gods in their mythology and not one…”
  • Day 17: Someone’s life takes on a new meaning after they discover an unusual tree.
  • Day 18: Lancelot, flannel, and aeronautics.
  • Day 19: An explorer with MPD, a widow, and a house in the woods. TIP: Look up everything “MPD” could stand for before you write.
  • Day 20: A sailor returning home finds his wife knows every detail of his life while he was away.
  • Day 21: “The color of her blood was the least of my worries.”
  • Day 22: A plague, a piece of chalk, and viridian.
  • Day 23: The story of how your parents met, transposed to the Victorian era. Feel free to replace parents with another family member, yourself, etc.
  • Day 24: A substance which generates ideas, a spy, and one minute.
  • Day 25: An unfinished work of art, a mycologist, a sense of foreboding.
  • Day 26: Invent a creation myth involving string and feathers.
  • Day 27: Mind controlling wallpaper creates happy ending.
  • Day 28: “Winter was the only season we could be together.”
  • Day 29: The language of flowers, pajamas, and a secret passageway.
  • Day 30: “She liked to fit people into the world like puzzle pieces.”

If you share your work on your own blog or pages, please drop me a link. I’d love to see your work!

How to Make Time to Write – Simple Strategies

We all get 24 hours in a day. We have to use those hours differently. Right now, you may feel maxed out. You want to write, but there’s no time. I have some good news. You probably do have time to write; you have to find it and prioritize it.

There are simple ways to squeeze in short writing blocks throughout your day. Let’s start by evaluating your day. Don’t ditch your planners or lists, keep those for now. I want to introduce you to an activity log. An activity log will help you look at your day differently. Understanding where and how you spend your time, you can discover which tools work best for you to carve out some writing time.

Evaluate Your Day

Start by evaluating how you spend your day. Juggling a job, family, pets, and life, in general, can make it seem like you are always on the go. Take a hard look at what you are doing and when. Get a notepad or cheap notebook—doesn’t have to be anything fancy—and keep a log of each day for at least a week. If you can, log your days for two weeks. Keep it simple! You need the date and day of the week across the top of the page. Then note the rough start and stop time for everything you do throughout the day. Don’t use this as a schedule to pre-plan tasks; record what you do as you are doing it.

The goal isn’t to account for every single minute of your day; you can have gaps. Be honest. You can always destroy the pages later. Completing this exercise is a tool to help you see where you are spending your time and help you find spots where you can carve out small writing blocks. Do you work a “day job” that gives you breaks and lunch? Do you have kids in sports or other activities where you have to wait during practices or lessons? Those are fantastic opportunities to spend 10-15 minutes writing.

Planners, Calendars, and Schedules – Oh my!

For those of you who do live and die by your planner, calendar, or another scheduling tool, you may think you have a perfect picture of where you spend your time.

Try the activity log for a few days and compare to your planner. Are they different? Does your activity log show you things you didn’t put on your calendar? For example, you may have a doctor’s appointment scheduled in your planner. Did you sit in the waiting room? What did you do while you waited? Situations like this is an example of a missed writing opportunity.

Use Technology to Your Advantage

Once you are open to the idea and practice of writing in 10-15 minute blocks buried inside of other events, be prepared. You need a way to write that you are comfortable using no matter where you are. The method doesn’t matter as much as making sure it fits you. If you prefer notepads and handwriting, do that. If you want to carry a laptop with you, do that. Don’t forget about the one thing you probably already take with you everywhere you go—your cell phone. Typing on that tiny little touch screen keyboard may not give you the efficiency of a laptop, but it will still allow you to take advantage of situations where you may not be able to use another device.

Also, don’t forget about programs that allow you to work across multiple devices. You can use your phone to start a document at Susie’s soccer practice and finish it on your home computer once the kids are in bed. Apps and programs that allow you to sync files make writing on the go and in small sessions much more manageable. There are cloud drives and other programs that let you take your documents with you anywhere you go.

Just Say No

Once you find your writing time, you have to protect it. You have to say no when others try to infringe on that time.  If writing is important to you, prioritize it like you would other “to do” items. Uphold your end of the agreement when it comes to staffing the concession stand at your child’s sporting events or picking up extra shifts at work, but don’t volunteer for more than needed. I know this sounds like I’m saying be a lousy parent or employee or don’t be a team player. We want to be helpful but saying no is all right.

You also have to say no to yourself sometimes. It’s easy to get distracted by the other things we enjoy or feel we have to do. Don’t let new episodes of your favorite TV show or anything else to take the place of your writing time. You could use those things as rewards for meeting your writing goals each day or week. Do what you need to do to protect your writing time once you find it.

If writing is something you want to do, but you couldn’t ever figure out how to make time to write, I hope the information above helps you find a few minutes here and there to get started. There are hidden pockets of time throughout the day where you could be writing. It may take longer to write on your phone or in short bursts, but I guarantee you that writing this way is much better than not writing at all.

As a bonus, I’ve also included a very basic, no-frills, printable worksheet to help you track your day. You can follow the link below to print a few copies, or you can use it as a guide to set up your notebook.

Using the Best Creative Writing Prompts for You

You want to write. The blank page is staring back at you. Maybe you write a few words, then delete them. You type a few more words. Then delete. You do this until doing laundry or dishes sounds like more fun. Sound familiar?

Almost every writer, including me, has gone through the write-delete ritual. To break out of this cycle, try using the best creative writing prompts for unlocking your imagination. Prompts can be a great way to jump-start your writing.

Let’s take a closer look at what writing prompts are, how to pick the best prompt, preparing to use prompts, and a few of my favorites to get you started.

What Are Writing Prompts

Writing prompts are a writer’s best friend, especially to fight off a case of writer’s block. The purpose of a prompt is to make you think about something in a different way. Think of prompts as an alarm clock for the creative side of your mind. They help wake up the connections in your brain.

Prompt work may not always lead directly into the story you wanted to write, and that’s all right. The important part is that the practice helps you start putting words on the page and keep writer’s block at bay.

Getting ready to use prompts

Let’s talk about preparing to use writing prompts. If you aren’t in the right frame of mind, you can select the best creative writing prompts and still struggle to get your first few lines. When using prompts, remember:

  1. It doesn’t matter if you want to write poetry, memoir, short fiction, a novel, or something else. The purpose of a writing prompt is to get the words on the page.
  2. Permit yourself to write badly, to write fast, and to write whatever topic or image that comes to mind.
  3. Be open to the prompt. If the prompt suggests writing about chewing gum, write about chewing gum for five to ten minutes.

Picking the Best Prompt

Prompts could be a single word, a phrase, sentence, elements of a story, a photo, an activity, or a thousand other things. If you search online, you will find curated lists for poets, kids, teachers, horror novel writers, and much more. The secret here is that any of them will work for you even though you aren’t a poet, kid, teacher, or horror writer.

The key isn’t to find the best prompt for the format or genre; the key is to find what works best for you. Try a variety of different prompts. You may find writing while looking at a picture works best one day where writing from a random list of items works best the next day.

When you see a prompt that makes you think: “oh, this will be fun” or “oh, this will be hard” that’s the prompt you want. Both will get the gears turning in your mind and the words flowing onto the page.

A Few of My Favorites

The good news here is that writing prompts are all around you. I’ve recommended a few of best creative writing prompts for me, and hopefully you, below:

  1. Look around your desk, room, or house, or even outside your window. Pick an item or object and tell that item or object’s story. Where did you get it? Who had it before? Did you or a family member make it? Don’t know? Make up the answers.
  2. Play the Why Game—Ever been around a little kid that seems only to know the word “why?” Do that and make up answers as to why. You can start with something like: I’m writing a sentence. (Why?) Because I want to tell you about the turtles. (Why?) Because turtles are cool. (Why?) Keep going until you don’t need the “why” anymore.
  3. The Amazing Story Generator (ISBN-13: 978-1452111001)—I’ve used this book for years. It is a spiral bound “choose your adventure” style book with split pages that can be mixed and matched. You could start with something like: “While on a second honeymoon, an identical twin, is reunited with a long-lost twin.” Then, flip one section, like the character, to get: “While on a second honeymoon, a pathological liar is reunited with a long-lost twin.”
  4. Rory’s Story Cubes (dice or app)—The story cubes come in sets of nine dice with simple pictures on each side. Roll two, three, or all nine and use the images to start writing. How you interpret the image is up to you.
  5. A Writer’s Book of Days: A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life (ISBN-13: 978-1577319368)—This is my go-to book when I need a writing prompt for writer’s block. Confession—I haven’t read the chapter material even though I use the prompts whenever I feel particularly stuck.

Using prompts can be a great way to conquer the blank page. Prompts can open up a pathway for you to start thinking about one thing and leapfrog into any number of other stories. Focus on what works for you, on what helps your writing get started and don’t worry about whether a prescribed list targets you as a writer or the writing you want to do. Trust your creativity and the prompt to set the words inside you free.

Ready to dive in? Check out the Write the First Word Facebook Page for the 30-Day Prompt Challenge.