Being a writer can be a lonely business. You, your computer, your cup of coffee–it’s no wonder you get stuck, and find yourself unsure if the last thing you wrote is brilliant or drivel. If you have a book project you’re trying to move forward, a writers group can be invaluable. Sure, many writers cringe at the idea of sharing their own work and holding it up for critique. But if your goal is for your writing to eventually reach an audience (which includes reviewers), you might as well get used to that idea now. A trusted group of peers can offer encouragement, constructive criticism, and insights into your work that you simply couldn’t see before. Plus, the structure it provides gives members something perhaps even more vital–deadlines. Here are some tips to keep in mind when forming your own writing group. (If you’re already in one, we’d love to hear your own–and what you’ve learned along the way.)
1. Keep expectations realistic. It’s great to be motivated enough to envision weekly meetings with your group, but it’s probably not doable. Think about monthly meetings to start.
2. Choose wisely. Tempting as it may be to populate your group with friends, think long and hard about who will be the best asset to your group–and who will be committed to it. Ideally, group members have a similar experience level, are comfortable giving and receiving honest feedback, and have opinions you trust. If you’ve taken a writing class, cherry-pick from your classmates.
3. Size matters. How many people to include in your group is a subjective call. A good number to start with about six to eight. Think of it this way: Chances are, at least one member will miss each meeting, and you want at least four other people reviewing your work in order to ensure the best possible discussion. Too many voices and the conversation can get muddled.
4. Give and take. Don’t expect to have your work reviewed every single time you meet. This is a group endeavor, and you’ll need to commit time and energy to other people’s writing. Plan to create a workshop schedule and alternate who is submitting work and who is reviewing it. You may also want to assign a workshop leader for each piece, so someone is responsible for kicking off the discussion and keeping it on track.
5. Manage your time. If your writers’ group routinely runs overtime, you’ll lose members. To keep everyone on task, have a time limit for talking about each person’s work before you move on, and stick to your schedule.
6. Set clear goals. In order for any group to work, you have to have to know your purpose. Some writers’ groups meet simply to write, without any more structure than that. Others meet to work on predetermined writing exercises, to talk about the writing process, or to workshop each other’s works-in-progress. Decide what your own goals are at the get-go, and revisit them with your group as necessary.