What to Look for in a Writing Group

Written by Chantelle Atkins | November 19, 2015

There is no doubt that writing can be a lonely business. Yes, you have the Internet, and the entire world potentially available at your fingertips. However, as important and useful as these online connections and friends are, nothing quite beats meeting other writers in person. It’s not just about building friendships, although that is lovely if it happens, but it’s about meeting and connecting with like-minded souls, people who are going through what you are going through ie; self-doubt, loss of faith, loss of motivation, just generally being lost!

Joining a writing group can be an invaluable experience for many writers. There is no doubt that being part of a group that meets regularly boosts productivity. Just talking about writing often gets inspiration flowing. Here is why I set up my own writing group, and how you can, and should do the same if you cannot find one to join.

I’d attended various writers groups over the years, but had never quite found what I was looking for in one. It wasn’t until I had rejected writing groups as helpful to me, that I finally worked out exactly what I wanted from one, and decided to set up my own.

So what should a good writing group be like? Here are some suggestions.

Have a Leader
In my view, a writing group works best with at least one clear leader, or person ‘in charge’. This could be two people, or even three, but there definitely needs to be someone who is willing to take the reins when needed, and keep things focused. When you find a group of like-minded people and put them together, the danger is always there to chat and moan and generally waste time. While this is nice, and certainly helps to break the ice, a person in charge is needed to steer things back to writing and progress. Ideally, this person should show an interest in each and every member, and know what they write, what they want to write and what their personal goals are.

Honest Critique
A really good writing group needs to be honest, kind, and genuinely critical, in order to enable people to improve their craft. Only positive feedback might feel good but honest critiques are what helps a writer improve over the long term.

Progress
It may be an enjoyable and friendly group, but ask yourself this; is anyone actually making progress? Are people getting better at writing? Are people finishing their work? Are people moving on to submitting work? A good writing group can provide many things; friendship, feedback, support and helpful critique. It may even offer contests and competitions to enter, as well as writing prompts and challenges to get you out of your comfort zone. But it should also be a source of motivation, that helps move members forward. It should inspire attendees to want to write even more, to want to rush home and get pen to paper, to push forward and get better at every aspect of writing.

Help and Advice

It’s all very well to sit in a group, talk about writing, share work and offer feedback, but what next? Many people go to writing groups because they want to find out more. They want to get better at writing, but they also want answers to their questions. How do I set up a blog, and why should I? How do I submit short stories to magazines? Which magazines would suit my work? How do I get started on social media and why is it important to do so?

Many people have written stories, poems and novels and don’t have a clue what to do next. A good writing group should be willing to help, and find out the answers to their questions. This in itself will become motivation for people to keep coming, and keep writing. If they feel like they are not alone, like someone is there to help and guide them, if there are answers and suggestions when they get lost, then the group will become invaluable to them.

Having worked out what I wanted from a writing group, I decided to set up my own. I sincerely suggest you do the same, if you cannot find a good group to join near you. Getting out of the house and away from the laptop is refreshing and inspiring. Get out there and meet other writers in the flesh! Help them and help yourself. Make friends, meet new characters, come across new untold stories just bursting to be heard. It is really easy to set up your own and depending on how you wish to run it, needn’t be expensive either.

You just have to choose a location, decide if you are running it for free, and advertise. Advertising might sound expensive but it doesn’t have to be. Posters in the library are a good place to start. You can obviously set up a Facebook page and advertise for free, or you can post about your group on local online groups and pages.

Also make sure that you set goals for the group once you have regulars. It might be a good idea to split the time between listening to work and providing feedback, and covering other issues people are interested in, such as places to submit, how to build an author platform and so on. Decide how you want the group to work, write a mission statement and introduce your ideas to members. Setting a weekly agenda is always a good plan. You can ask members each week what they would like to cover the following week.

Being part of a good writing group is an amazing thing. Not only is there the opportunity to make friends with and learn about people from all sorts of backgrounds, with all sorts of stories to tell, there is the opportunity to progress. To find out what works and what doesn’t work with your own writing, to give and receive genuine support and advice. Writing need not be lonely. It can be a shared experience from the first idea, to the polished and published result. Go out and find a great writing group to join, and if you can’t, consider setting one up yourself.