How to Start a Writers’ Group, part 2

By A.L. Rogers, Author and Write Michigan Judge
*** This post was originally published at writemichigan.org

Welcome back, writers! In my first post, we discussed two important ideas for starting your own writers’ group:

(1) Surround Yourself with Like-Minded Writers

(2) Meet Regularly

We also talked about how writers’ groups can be rock-band cool with names like The Dill Pickle Club and February House. This is an extremely important part of any successful writers’ group. We’ll return to item of extreme gravitas later.

All kidding aside, forming a writers’ group can be hard. It can be time-consuming. It also requires us to be leaders of some capacity, which isn’t easy for a lot of writers. Many people have also had bad experiences in writers’ groups. So, if we’re going to put in the effort of creating a new writers’ group how can we be sure it’s a healthy one? How can we form a group that lasts?

Make Encouragement Part of Your Group Culture

Do you know what kills writers’ groups? Anxiety and embarrassment.

People usually feel anxious about the next group meeting because (a) it’s hard to hear criticism about one’s writing, especially in a public setting; or (b) they haven’t written much since the last meeting and feel like they’re a fake.

Imagine going to a writers’ group meeting and hearing comments like:

“I don’t think your characters are believable.”

“Your plot has been done so many times before.”

“You didn’t get any writing done this week? Well, you’ll never get published if you don’t get the work done.”

All of these things may indeed be true. But no writer can receive this kind of commentary without at least feeling discouraged. Imagine hearing it week after week. Anxiety and embarrassment would become commonplace. Soon enough people would stop showing up to group meetings.

Do you know what reduces anxiety and embarrassment? Encouragement.

Imagine hearing comments like these at a writers’ group meeting:

“You haven’t written anything new since last week? I know what that’s like.”

“I’m sorry your article got rejected. I bet you’ll be able to find a new place to submit it. I’ll help you look if you’d like.”

“Congrats on the writing you got done this week! Don’t worry that it isn’t perfect yet. Just getting some writing done is worth celebrating.”

Which writers’ group would you rather attend?

Be intentional about encouraging the members of your new group. Every writer wrestles with their identity as a writer. Am I good enough? Do I write enough? What if I haven’t been published yet? Should I even call myself a writer? The way to win this wrestling match is to encourage one another. Make it part of the culture of your group meetings.

Create Events

Groups of people form a strong bond when they experience something positive together. These experiences can be big events, like parties, or daily activities done quietly alongside one another, like workplace chit chat.

Families celebrate holidays together. They also experience births, weddings, funerals, and everything in between together.

Sports teams compete together. They travel together, win together, and mournfully eat soft serve after a particularly embarrassing loss together.

Religious communities attend services together, do work projects in the neighborhood, and study their sacred texts together.

Look for ways your writers’ group can experience a positive event together. For three or four years in a row, my writers’ group participated in a weekend-long writing contest. For us, it was an annual event filled with writing, laughter, junk food, and not enough sleep. While we don’t participate in that contest every year anymore, those (hysterical) early experiences formed a strong, lasting bond.

Here are some ideas—big and small—for events your writers’ group can do together.

· Plan a writing-themed party once or twice a year. Halloween, Christmas, your favorite author’s birthday—whatever. Just get together and geek out with a writer-themed party.

· Host a public reading. At a coffeehouse, the school commons, or someone’s living room. Set a date. Bring snacks. Ask everyone to read a poem, a passage from their work-in-progress, or an essay.

· Go to a literary event together. Attend a KDL event. Go to a local bookstore for a book signing. Go to a local writers’ conference.

· Create simple traditions in your regular meetings. I know of one writers’ group that celebrates every publication, no matter how big or small, by passing out travel-size bottles of wine.

If your group shares positive experiences together, then it is much more likely to form a strong, healthy bond.

Time to Form a Band Writers’ Group

Starting a writers’ group isn’t easy. It might take a while before you find enough like-minded people. Or you may struggle to find a good day or location to meet. (Consider meeting at your local library!) Or you may encounter some other challenge. Like anything worth doing, writers’ groups require work.

But starting a writers’ group is not an impossible task. It will be what you make it, so make it fun! If you haven’t read “How to Start a Writers’ Group, part 1” yet, then check it out for more helpful ideas.

Find those like-minded people. Meet regularly. Encourage each other to achieve your goals. And enjoy events and traditions together.

Pick a cool “band name,” too.

The Dotted I’s.

The Pageturners.

Write Club.

You’re a writer! You’ll think of something.

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