If you’re a writer who’s looking for a little companionship, encouragement, feedback and advice, then a writing group might be just what you need. But what do you do if you can’t find a crit or writers' group in your area? Or when you’ve pitched up to a few local groups and found that none of them match your style? Well, start one of your own, of course. Here are a few things to keep in mind before you dive in.
Decide the kind of group you want to be
Writing groups come in a lot of different guises. Some put the focus on encouragement and meet regularly to discuss their writing in a general sense. Others are concerned with providing detailed feedback, so they ask for one or two writing submissions ahead of meetings so that members can read and compile notes. Some ask every single member of the group to submit writing every time and dedicate a short window of time to each at every meeting.
All can be very useful, but before starting your group, ask yourself honestly what stage you’re at in your career and what type of environment will best suit your personality.
Advertise widely (but specifically)
To spread the word about your fledgling group, you might want to write a nice post to share in a variety of local Facebook groups (be sure to mark it public). You might also create posters and fliers to leave in local cafes, libraries and community spaces. Or you can put together an email with all of the important details and send it to any University or Colleges with creative writing departments as well as local arts organisations like Creative Scotland.
It’s totally fine to have a writing group that welcomes all sorts of writing but if you have a real passion (or aversion) for any particular genre or form, be sure to make that clear in any adverts or call outs you do. Be specific about your skill level and look for members who’re likely to be on the same page. Likewise, be open about the kind of atmosphere you’re hoping to create – people will want to know what’s expected from them commitment-wise as well as the sort of reception that might be waiting for them when they turn up for their first meeting.
Find a good venue
This step might take a little experimentation to get right. You might want to host in your own home or create a hosting schedule. Be aware that this can become quite time intensive and might not be something all members are comfortable with.
Cafes can be a great pick if you’re meeting during the day, especially if they have nice cake and you choose a quiet time. Pubs are also an excellent call but you will need to think about things like distracting music or busy periods. Ask around for places with unused, small back or function rooms. Some pubs might be willing to let you use these without charge as long as you agree to buy a drink or two each.
Be prepared to take the lead
If you’re the person who came up the idea of a writing group and you’re the one organising things over email, then there’s a good chance people will be looking to you to take the lead in person too. For example, getting the meeting started or finished on time or saying when it’s time to move on to the next piece of writing.
If that’s something you might find difficult, see if you can recruit a confident member of the group to be the spokesperson, even if you still do lots of behind-the-scenes work.
Lay out the rules/your expectations clearly
Once you have an idea of the kind of group you want – whether it’s one very focused on feedback or one more about sharing experiences – you need to find a way to make your expectations clear. Your format may change and adapt over time, but it’s good to have a clear idea of what you want out of sessions.
When new members join your group, send them a little introductory email with a few details about the kind of feedback people are looking for and the rough format your meetings will follow.
Lastly, enjoy yourself and look forward to making lots of new writing friends.