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7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting a Writers Group

Categories: Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, Guest Columns.

As a professional writer, it is my duty—and my pleasure—to encourage new and emerging writers along the path. A few years ago, I started a writers’ group with the support of our local Women’s Resource Center. I wanted to create a safe space for women to share writing, resources, contacts, and a few laughs … and Wild Women Writing was born. 

Since beginning the group, I’ve seen many writers come and go. More importantly, some of them have stayed committed to the group and returned each month to read, critique, discuss topics of interest, and take their writing to the next level. Starting a group can be a lot of fun—it’s also a
lot of work. Before deciding to take that step, here are seven
questions to ask yourself, to help focus your intent and assess your
level of interest.



Molly Anderson-Childers
is a writer, artist,

creativity consultant, and photographer in Colorado.
(In fact, this photo is of her hands!)

Her work has appeared locally and nationally in
print publications, and can be found online at
creativity-portal.com and ediblesanjuanmountains.com,
to name a few. She blogs at Addictive Fiction
and Stealing Plums, and is currently working
on a novel. Her e-mail is stealingplums@yahoo.com.  

 

1. What is your vision or intention for this group? Do you want a place to socialize with other writers, get feedback on current projects, or share resources and ideas? Be clear about this from the beginning, and your group will be off to a strong start.

2. What qualifications (if any) are you looking for in prospective group members? You can choose to open membership to emerging and unpublished writers, but be aware that they might not be as committed as professional writers. Again, be clear about what your intention is for the group, and choose your members accordingly.

3. Do you want to focus on a specific genre, or type of writing? This, too, will help narrow the selection of prospective members. It will also ensure that, once the group starts to meet, members will find they have some common ground.

4. How much time can you commit to this group? Ask yourself what you can devote to this new venture—and be realistic. If you only have time to attend meetings once a month, and can’t seem to fit writing into your schedule in the first place, it might be more appropriate for you to join an existing writers’ group, rather than starting your own. It takes time and energy to get a project like this off the ground—don’t commit unless you can follow through.

5. What are you hoping to gain from this experience? If you’re not getting what you need from the group, you’ll lose motivation. For example, if you need a group of beta readers for your novel, don’t start a group for brand-new writers. You’ll be better off with more experienced authors that can give you the feedback you need to take your work to the next level.

6. What are your goals or expectations for the group? Be very clear about this before you begin, and share your expectations with group members right away, to make sure everyone’s on the same page.

7. What processes need to be set in motion so you can begin, maintain, and grow your group? First, find a place to meet regularly, where you can have a bit of privacy and peace and quiet. You may need to advertise for members in a local paper, put up fliers, or make a few calls before you have enough members for a group. Know that this won’t be a good fit for everyone, and that you will lose a few members here and there. In the first six months to a year, you’ll probably see quite a bit of transience among group members—it can take time for a group to really gel. I recommend leaving the group open to new members until you’ve established a strong core of writers who attend consistently.
Once you’ve got a good group, don’t be afraid to delegate some of the administrative aspects of it to others. It’s important to give them some ownership of the group, and to let them help. Maybe you can elect someone to send out group e-mails to remind members of the next meeting, or start a blog for your group. One person might be in charge of finding guest speakers and planning events. Another member could be in charge of scheduling an open mike night with a local coffeeshop to promote your group’s work.

Beginning a writers’ group is a rewarding, challenging, and inspirational experience. I’ve seen women who were afraid to speak at their first meeting slowly blossom into writers, able to share their work and read it aloud in front of an audience. The best part? I was able to help them along this road, as more experienced writers once helped and guided me.


If you are looking for a critique of your
work, come to see WD editors personally
at the next Editors Intensive (Cincinnati,
Sept. 11-12, 2010).

 

 

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8 Responses to 7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting a Writers Group

  1. sam says:

    You missed story structure: see Kal Bashir’s 510+ stage for hero’s journey at http://www.clickok.co.uk/index4.html

  2. Russo says:

    I really liked this post because I learned alot. Well done.

  3. Hyaline says:

    Some great points, particularly to make expectations clear from the get-go. I bet a lot of critique and writer’s groups have failed because not everyone was on the same page (no, ahem, pun intended).

    However…."You’ll be better off with more experienced authors that can give you the feedback you need to take your work to the next level."

    Really? I’m not sure. My best betas aren’t writers at all! They’re readers, and darn good ones! This feels a little skewed toward excluding new writers–it’s hard enough to break into publishing, so think twice about excluding people without credentials. They might be less committed, but they might also be doubly committed because they’re working hard to break in. Knowing if someone will be a good member is a lot harder than glancing over a list of publishing credits. And depending on your area, you might be in a situation where it’s new/unpublished writers or no writers.

  4. I agree with your list and would suggest new writers looking to form groups can find other new writers at workshops in their area. I’ve noticed that some people want to have critique groups while others want other people to do writing exercises with. My little group has been together for ten years. It has been the most important factor in my growth as a writer.

  5. Great advice. I owe so much to my writer’s group, and I’m very thankful to be a part of it.

  6. Fantastic information. I didn’t know these things when I wanted to start a group. Thankfully, one of my critique partners did, and she got us going the right way. Have a great weekend.

  7. Candace says:

    This is a fabulous list! Something everyone should think about before starting a critique group!

  8. What a great, great summary of the key questions to ask yourself (and others) before jumping into a Writer’s Group. I learned these the hard way, starting a group with very divergent writing levels and expectations. It was not a positive experience for me. I hope this posting can save someone else the stress I went through before quitting the group I started.

    Very well done. Thanks for this, Molly!

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