Writers’ groups play a vital role in the literary ecosystem: at regular intervals, they transform a solitary occupation into a mutual endeavour. But even the most committed collective can sometimes run low on energy, while groups which focus on critique are liable to get mired in routine. At the moment, I’m mentoring a fabulous bunch of writers in rural Scotland who have challenged me to find ways of helping them out of a rut. So, based on some of my initial experiments, here are five ideas for invigorating your own writing group.
Mind-map your mission
"See if you can define everything that makes your group special"
What’s your group for? That might seem obvious, but every group is unique – and the more you explore the particular personality of yours, the more you’ll discover about its potential. So get a huge sheet of paper and lots of coloured pens so everyone can scribble at once, and see if you can define everything that makes your group special. Do you bond over a particular form or aesthetic? Are you inspired by your local area? Note everything you have in common, your shared ambitions, and what you each value about the group. Then have a bash at turning all that into a few sentences that express what you’re all about: just a simple declaration that will inspire you to keep doing what matters to you most.
Shift the focus
For groups whose meetings are primarily critique sessions, try alternating these with get-togethers where you focus on collaboratively supporting each other to achieve individual goals. If you want to increase your weekly wordcount, overcome habits that hamper your craft or start submitting to magazines, how can everyone else help? The phrase ‘accountability group’ might look like a dodgy buzzword, but if you put it into your search engine you’ll find loads of tips that are fun to adapt.
Reach out to your community
If your community is in your local area, what can you offer as writers? Is there a community project that might benefit from workshops or other creative input? See if you can find an opportunity for your group to harness the emotional benefits of giving, whilst raising awareness of your work. If your tribe is more a community of interest – around a particular genre, for example – what could you do online to contribute? For more inspiration, I recommend Lori A. May’s excellent book on literary citizenship, The Write Crowd (Bloomsbury, 2015).
Pick a project
"Think about embarking on a collaborative creative project"
More ambitiously, you could think about embarking on a collaborative creative project. If there’s a book or arts festival in your area, see if you can work towards an event to showcase your group’s work, with new pieces written specially for the theme of the festival. Can you involve other kinds of artists or performers? Or publish an anthology for the occasion? You might find local funding is available to support projects like this.
Create some communal research
Do you feel there’s knowledge you collectively lack? It could be practical information to do with the publishing industry, self-publishing, or funding and submission opportunities. It might be expertise specific to your genre, or an aspect of technique you’ve all been wrestling with. If there’s something you need to find out, don’t rely on hearsay! Arm yourselves with a fun research challenge: you might be amazed at how much valuable new knowledge you can amass in your group.
Above all, have fun experimenting! See what you can do to give your group a boost for your next meeting.