Tips for the Ideal Writer's Group
Seven Ways to Make Your Writer's Group Work
I bet we each have an idea of what a perfect writer’s group should be. Many an article has been written on the topic. After hanging out with writers from coast to coast for nearly 30 years, I offer my view of what makes a successful one. Spoiler: the slant here is decidedly toward honest and clear critiquing and aiming for published work.
Get To Know Each Other: Although we can’t know for sure who will be compatible, having an initial social hour where potential members tell who they are, what they write, and what their goals are can help. Social banter can tell us a lot about each other. Note: Avoid crowded, noisy restaurants. I went to a restaurant/bar meetup once, and I came home with ringing ears and no clue who my fellow writers were. Outcome should be: members are compatible.
Find Your Focus: Think about focusing on one genre and even one sub-genre. In a multi-genre group, members often have to listen to work they are not attuned to and, even worse, have to critique a piece in a genre they know little about. We writers not only write in our genres, but we read widely in them. When I am working in memoir, for example, I want memoir geeks to critique my work. And I feel sorry for anyone who asks me to critique their poetry.
Publish or Not: I am convinced writers need to be where they can reach their primary goals. Some authors want a casual reading group and some have the ambition to publish. These disparate goals do not mix well. I once visited a group that forbade any critique of the work. “We just enjoy meeting and reading,” the leader told me. I was out the door. I wanted to publish. Be sure the members’ goals match.
Have Timely Rules: Not many. Enough to keep on time and on task. Most importantly, have a time limit for each member to read and to be critiqued. And have a gentle reminder to those who veer off into long personal stories. Ask members to be on time to the meeting and to be ready with their work.
Be Kind: Present the pluses of a piece, and then gently bring on the minuses. Don’t do what Once I heard someone say in a group: “Charlotte, you need to go home and read more widely and broaden your knowledge of literature. Your work is shallow.” I credit Charlotte with not reaching across the table with a swift punch.
No Swords Drawn: Author defenses are not needed. It’s a rough draft of a story you will probably revise several times anyway. Chill. You have the right to take or leave what is said about your work. No need to defend yourself. Author, be still.
Bring It! I have been in writer’s groups where a member showed up week after week with no work to critique. They made excuses my kids wouldn’t use in fake excuse notes for school. Just couldn’t get it going. Needless to say, this makes for a pretty boring writer’s group session. And short. If you sign on, commit to showing up with something in your hand.