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How to Start A Writing Group

Hide your red pens and banish your adolescent phobias of public humiliation in English class. Here's how to conduct a writing group which will let you circulate your creative writing, offer and receive helpful feedback, and propel your development as a writer by exposing yourself to a variety of forms and styles.

1. Round up some writers.
Chances are, if you're putting pen to paper and generating creative work, many of your friends are doing the same. Send an initial sussing-out email to parties you think might be interested, and tell them to forward it onto any writers they know. Ask them: What kind of personal writing do they do? Would they be interested in sharing their work to get feedback from other writers and offering their thoughts on the work of others? Don't discriminate if you wind up with a group consisting of poets, fiction writers, essayists and journalists -- most writers agree that a range of material breeds great feedback from writers more and less experienced with certain forms.

2. Set some parameters.
How often do you want your group to meet? Where will the gatherings be held? Monthly meetings are about right, given most of our busy schedules, but some groups meet bi-monthly. As every member of the group will be expected to read and comment on the pieces to be workshopped in advance of the meeting, it's good to give an ample amount of time in which each writer can read, and write comments onto the work to be discussed. Set a standard time (say, the second Wednesday of each month), and determine where you'd like to hold the group. As the meeting will rely upon discussion, holding the event at someone's house will allow you to control the noise level. Plan to rotate within the group as to who hosts each meeting. Then everyone can have a shot at plying the assembled writers with food and drink to foster a welcoming, convivial environment.

3. Invite your posse.
Hokey as they can be, Evites work well for this sort of event, as they permit you to see who's planning on attending. Ask everyone to bring an original piece of writing, duplicated with enough copies for everyone who's attending. Explain that they'll disseminate a copy of their piece to each group member to take home with them to review and bring to the next meeting.

4. Get to know everyone.
When you're all assembled at the first meeting, have everyone introduce themself by telling how they came to writing, and what impelled them to join the group. They can also give some background on what they brought with them for the first circulation of material, and what kind of feedback and support they're hoping for from the writing group. Doing this kind of round-robin group share seems cheesy, but an important part of getting your writing group off the ground is establishing goals the whole group is aware of, and wants to attain. While the writing can vary widely, respect for the work being shared, and a commitment to being considerate in reviewing others' work and contributing one's own, is an essential ingredient in every writing group.

5. Discuss the writing.
Each person should have the same amount of worshop time devoted to their piece. (If your group is too large to discuss everyone's work in the same session, limit the number of works on the docket for each session to allow at least 20 minutes for each piece). Encourage writers to open their time by reading a passage of their piece out loud. Hearing even a fraction of a writer's work in his or her own voice sets a nice tone for the ensuing discussion. Request that reviewers mark their comments onto each piece as they review it in advance of the worshop. It can be immensely helpful to the writer if he or she wishes to revise the piece and resubmit it to the group for another round of input. Set a pace for the workshops as in: the group gets to comment upon the piece for 3/4 of the alloted time, and the writer gets 1/4 of that time to ask questions of the group. Since this get-together hinges upon the desire of writers to receive input on their work, it follows that the other writers' feedback should constitute the bulk of the writer's workshop time.

For further information, we recommend the following books:

The Writer's Guide to Critique Groups
by Linda Griffin
Imajinn Books, ISBN: 1893896005
Paperback - 96 pages, April 1999
>> Buy It Now: The Writer's Guide to Critique Groups

The Portable Creative Writing Workshop
by Pat Boran
Salmon Poetry, ISBN: 1897648510
Paperback - 204 pages, October 1999
>> Buy It Now: The Portable Creative Writing Workshop

If you don't have the energy to start your own group, check our writing groups page for current groups that may need new members. Let the story-swapping begin!