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How to sustain a writers’ group

Games and fiction writer Gavin Inglis shares his top tips for running a writers' group that lasts.

Last updated: 11 March 2024

Gavin Inglis has been in the same writers’ workshop since 1993. He shares some of the secrets that have helped keep it together all these years.

Make sure your writers' group has a focus

For a start, your group needs an identity so potential members can decide whether or not it suits them. Perhaps it is a friendly, open gathering dedicated to encouragement and support. Perhaps it is a private workshop which critiques commercial crime novels. It can be whatever works for the membership, but if it tries to be all things to all people, it will not have the cohesive force to endure.

People stick with writers’ groups because they are useful, and/or members enjoy the experience. Support, critique, networking. . . Understand what it is you do well, and move that to centre stage.

Make just enough rules

Some groups work best as anarchic collectives. Some are only comfortable when the spreadsheet is up to date. There will be diverse perspectives within the group. As a minimum, you need two things:

Accept change

The identity of your group may well drift as the membership changes and individuals develop creatively. That’s a natural process. In 1993, I joined a speculative fiction group leaning towards sci-fi short stories. It started to refine novels, adopted a performance side hustle, became a small press publisher, then lost half its core membership within a year. In 2024, it is a speculative fiction group leaning towards horror/weird stories, which stages the odd show to keep its hand in.

The two aspects which have remained constant for 30 years are a dedication to improving new work through critique, and a belief that the group’s stories are worth listening to. The focus remains, though the identity has shifted.

Don’t sleep on problems

Creative people are often cranky devils who like to do things in their own way. That energy is powerful until it manifests as ideological or personal conflict.

If you are the official group leader – or just the one who cares enough to read this article and think about it – you may need to step in, or at least trigger a discussion. These issues fester in silence but can often be resolved through honest, open dialogue. Sometimes people have to split off for the group to survive. If one member always upsets the others, try to make sure it’s the disruptive member who leaves, not everybody else.

Try new techniques

Several writers drifted off from our group because they felt they weren’t earning a place by keeping up with the more prolific members. In fact, by offering critique they were net contributors to the group, and their departure significantly weakened it. We needed to move beyond critique of finished work, and talk about creative process.

Try out new tools occasionally, but maintain a safety net. We all get blocked sometimes and it’s good to acknowledge that out loud. Need a few ideas? Sam Boyce suggests five ways to perk up your writers’ group.

Finally, remember to pause from time to time, look around, and appreciate what you have. A well-tuned writers’ group can be a regular source of great joy.

If you've not started a writers' group yet but you could do with a little inspiration, check out our guide to starting your own writers' group. Or if you're looking for one to join, why not have a look at our list of writing groups in Scotland?