Tips for Writing Groups

Start small and stay small

Writing groups require trust and commitment to function. Too many authors, and members will find it hard to find the time or emotional attachment to meet their deadlines week after week. Limit your group size to between four and six members, and only consider adding someone new when the feedback begins to stagnant.

Cast varying strengths bound by a shared sensibility

General-purpose writing groups don’t work. Though each writer should bring unique skills to the table, everyone has to share a similar aesthetic, or no one will be able to offer relevant feedback. Especially when adding a new voice to an established group, figure out what’s missing, and don’t stop looking until you find the right fit.

If a group isn’t working, try again

Nothing is gained by sticking with a group that isn’t working. If something feels off, mark a date on the calendar. If on that date, things still don’t feel right, get out! Discretely reach out to the members you’d like to keep working with and see if they’d like to build a new group and/or disband the original group as well.

Don’t pull punches, but wear gloves

Feedback is an art. Limit compliments to one or two exceptional feats, and focus on what fell short. Describe what you felt was broken, but don’t make suggestions about how to fix it—unless asked. Above all, be clear and kind. There’s no room in your group for sissies, but there’s no room for bullies either.

Agree on strict guidelines up front, and stick to them

What kind of writing can members submit? How long? What format? By what day and time? How is feedback delivered? Answer these questions democratically. Document them up front. And develop the spine to kindly keep people on course. Row together, or get lost at sea.

Build revisions into your format

Writing is rewriting, and too many writers avoid learning how to do it properly. Whatever format you choose, make sure every piece is given two rounds of feedback, with a substantial edit in between. Train one another to do the hard work and improve exponentially faster.

Increase commitment with not-for-profit dues

If you’re the organizer, consider charging members seasonal dues. This will lead people to devote more energy to the group, and it will keep pretenders from joining. Theses dues can be refunded at the end of the season, dedicated to shared resources, or spent on a private workshop with an industry pro. So long as you aren’t turning a profit!

Try focused flash fic from everyone, every week

If you want to improve rapidly, select a specific practice skill every month, then every week, every author writes 250 words practicing that skill (and revises the previous week’s words). In a five person group, that’s just 10 pages a week, and you won’t believe how much you grow from the start to the end of the month.

Try one new story and one old story, every week

Master the short story format with a round-robin. Every week, one author submits a new story (max 4,000 words), and the author from two weeks previous submits a revision. In a five person group, this means you always have two weeks to write and two weeks to revise, with a spare week for your final edit, leaving you with a publishable story every month.