The What’s What of Writers’ Groups

From time to time one of my readers will ask me to write about a particular topic, which I love (so go ahead and request away!) This writer’s request was about how to start a writers’ group. Unless you know some writers you respect enough to want to get together with on a regular basis, or you get invited to join a group, knowing where to start can actually be a pretty daunting task.

Starting Your Own Group

There are a few different possibilities here.
1. Email friends and friends of friends to gauge interest. Maybe people in your immediate circle have been writing for years and you don’t even know it. Too many writers can keep their passions and talents on the down-low, so don’t assume you don’t know any writers just because people aren’t sharing their work with you on a regular basis.

2. Go to your local bookstore (preferably an indie, since they’re way more involved with the community than your average Barnes & Noble). Ask the person who works there if they know of any local writing groups, or if they’d be willing to post something for you on their bulletin boards—physical or online.

3. Find out if you have a local writers club. I live in California, and the California Writers Club has eighteen branch websites! This is a great way to meet other writers. Attend their meetings and see who you connect with. You may find an immediate connection and grow from there.

4. If you want to work within a particular genre, consider looking into memoir groups, or fiction groups. The National Association of Memoir Writers, run by Linda Joy Myers, offers regular teleseminars (I’m going to be leading one in March 2010, so stay tuned) and workshops. This is a great place to connect with other writers who are doing memoir, and possibly to develop a group based on the connections you make there. A fun fiction outlet is National Novel Writing Month (popularly known as NaNoWriMo). This would be a good place to connect with other fiction writers online. Anyone who attempts to write a novel in a month demonstrates at least a willingness to throw themselves into something headfirst. And those might be your kind of people, just waiting for something more long-term to come along.

5. Go to book readings and strike up a conversation with the people there. You’re very likely to find writers at readings. It’s just the way it goes. Writers and book people attend lots and lots of readings!

A word of caution
I’d advise you against posting on Craigslist or Meet-up groups. I’m sure there are a number of success stories out there, but you’re most likely going to have better luck going with one of the abovementioned strategies. The group you’re creating has to be a safe space where you can feel free to share your most intimate stories and self. It can feel very vulnerable to share your writing with others, so going about finding a group you really mesh with is important—and it might take some time.

What Are the Parameters of Your Group?

Before you even start looking for people to join your group, know the answer to the following questions and get clear on what you want. Write down your answers so that you remember what you want, and so you bring to you the group you want to be a part of.
• How many people do I want in my group?
• Do I want men and women in my group?
• How often would I like my group to meet?
• Do I want writers who write in any genre, or only in my genre?
• Do I care if the people in my group are at different experience levels?
• Do I require a certain level of discipline from the other writers in my group?
• Do I expect my group to be a critique group or a support group?

Some Things to Consider for Your First Meeting (Or Even Before Your First Meeting):

Make sure you take your first meeting to discuss the expectations of the group.
• What kind of feedback does each person want?
• Do you all agree to send writing ahead of the meeting and read beforehand, or will you read at the beginning of the meeting?
• Will you go around and discuss each person’s writing each meeting, or will you focus on one person per meeting?

You may also decide to create a confidentiality agreement. This can be in writing or verbal, but I recommend it as a way to honor the space you will be inhabiting with your fellow writers. The confidentiality agreement simply states that you all agree that what you are sharing is for the eyes of the group only and that no one in the group will discuss the writing or what’s shared outside of your group. It should be clear why a confidentiality agreement is important, but don’t just assume it. Speaking your intentions will get your group off on the right track.

Good luck and may you find a group that supports you or challenges you or simply helps to keep you writing!

I’d like to thank Linda Joy Myers of The National Association of Memoir Writers for her input on this post.

Until next month.


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