Writers’ groups provide you with perspective on your writing, accountability to keep you going, encouragement when you feel rotten about your work, and connection to the larger community in your genre.
I’ve been in several writers’ groups over the years. Actually, I’ve facilitated and hosted them all, too, but at least I didn’t do it alone.
We found that 6 members meant that everyone could receive critique every month. More than that and we’d have to take turns. We rarely submitted a whole 10,000 words, but that was the limit so we could actually read everyone’s submissions before attending.
We enforced the obligation to submit if you attended because it built trust into the system. Critique is much easier to swallow and much more seriously (and kindly) offered in a give-and-take situation.
We sought members who were actively pursuing publication, that is submitting their works to magazines, journals, anthologies, etc. This meant that members demonstrated a similar level of commitment and the writing was roughly equivalent.
Advertise Your Group
Here’s the advertisement we placed in several online venues like MeetUp.
Our writers' group is looking for new members. We currently have [number] people; ideally we'd like 6. All levels of experience are welcome. None of us have been published yet, but we're all working hard to achieve that goal, and we're looking for other writers who are equally serious about their craft. We meet once a month to offer and receive constructive comments on our work. Meetings begin at [time] with a light supper. Core members host in their [public transport]-accessible homes, alternating between [location] and [location]. New members are welcome, but not required, to take turns at hosting if they'd like the convenience. We submit no more than 10,000 words to the other members of the group by email one week before the meeting. Members read submissions ahead of time and come to each meeting prepared to comment on everyone else's work. We're seeking new members who can commit to attend every meeting. We will do all we can to take everyone's schedule into consideration, and even change the dates of meetings, given enough notice. Of course, everyone will occasionally have last minute conflicts, but in order to keep the group running consistently, members need to attend at least 75% of the meetings (4 or 5 out of the first 6, for example). All members are expected to submit something for review each month. This may be a complete short story, essay, or a novel chapter. Or it may be a portion of a work in progress, even just a few paragraphs. Poetry is also welcome. Please get in touch if you think you might be interested! We would also be happy to answer any additional questions you might have about the group. Next meeting: [day], [date]; [location]. Next due date for material submission: [day], [date].
Agree to Rules
Here are the group rules with which we asked everyone to agree. We had to enforce them once. It was really uncomfortable, but after that it was the most comfortable group (of this or any other sort) that I’ve ever been in.
We established an email account that forwarded to us all so that we didn’t have to hunt up everybody’s email each time we submitted.
These are the rules we've all agreed to: 1. E-mail your work to [writers' group name]@googlegroups.com, as an attachment (not in the body of the e-mail), by the deadline, 7 days before the meeting. 2. Read everyone else's work and be prepared to comment on it before you come. 3. Attend 4 out of every 6 meetings. We realize that everyone has a lot going on in their life, and won't always be able to submit work in time to meet the deadline. However, the way to handle extenuating circumstances is: 1. If you cannot submit in time, do not attend. 2. If a personal conflict comes up too close to the meeting to change the date, do not attend. We feel it's important to abide by these rules in order to respect the time commitment others are making in their willingness to read and critique our work. But it's perfectly acceptable to skip an occasional meeting, as long as you're attending at least 4 out of every 6. We are really much more interested in having a great group that pursues publishable writing than in enforcing these sorts of rules. We're looking forward to the former on [date].
Critique with Class, Not Crass
Here are the guidelines for critique that we used.
This is how we would like to approach critique preparation and feedback during our writers' group. You will probably want to print out each submission so that you can make notes or suggest changes directly to the drafts. This will also facilitate discussion within the group, as in "On page 7, in the paragraph beginning 'Janice clutched the knife and curled her tail around her ankle,' I feel that. . . ." Please read each submission and note to yourself comments you would like to make at the meeting. We return printouts to the respective writer after the review. Here are some guidelines for critiquing one another's writing. I've quoted them straight from the following site, where they're fleshed out if you want to read more: Burt, Andrew. "The Diplomatic Critiquer: The Nitty Gritty of How to Be One." No pages. Cited 13 April 2006. Online: http://www.critters.org/diplomacy.html. 1. Say it's your opinion. Even if you're absolutely certain that a comma was misplaced, the author will hear you better if you phrase your point as opinion rather than fact. 2. Don't try to persuade. . . . You're just relaying your feelings and things you noticed. 3. Avoid phrases like: "You have to," "You must," "You need to," "Always," "You can't," "Don't," and "Never." 4. Instead use: "You might consider," "I'm not sure but," "It strikes me that," "I felt," "Maybe," "I didn't care for," and "It didn't work for me when." 5. Avoid the imperative mood . . . commanding. 6. Be careful citing authorities. 7. Don't quote "rules" of writing. Why? Because there aren't any. . . . What there are lots of guidelines, but for every one of them, some great author has violated them brilliantly. 8. Critique the story, not the author. 9. Assume the author knows what they're doing. Assume any criticisms you make are because of your personal limitations as a reader, not their failings as a writer. 10. When you're an author receiving a critique, don't assume the critiquer will have done any of the above. . . . Look for what many people point out, and feel free to ignore what only one person says.