Build Your Own Writing Group

I’ve been missing my old writing group.

We met years ago, in Cris Beam’s From Pitch to Publish Class at New School. For at least a year, the four of us workshopped each others’ pieces, shared contacts, suggested paying markets, and basically gave each other the kicks in the ass we needed.

Eventually, life got busy. One of us moved to Brooklyn. One of us moved abroad. One of us had a baby. And I kept getting promoted at work, a development that forced me to travel more often on business.

I used to daydream about starting a new group. But how? And who?

Who:

It’s tough to populate a writing group when you work from home. I’m a fan of the classmate approach.

When you fill your group with those you’ve already been workshopping with, you already have an idea of their strengths and weaknesses. You can easily find a leader for you group… someone with research savvy… someone with strong writing, editing, and interviewing skills… someone with experience in the publishing field, and the contacts to back it up.

Other than that, try posting on bulletin boards, such as those at MediaBistro and FreelanceSwitch. Send out an SOS to craiglist surfers. Tweet about your writing group desires, or put up a bulletin on Facebook. If you’re a member of a professional organization or online discussion group, send out a group-wide message.

The Writer Magazine even lists already-existing groups! (Anyone know of any similar resources out there?)

What:

When you send out your SOS, be sure to specify what type of writing projects you’re interested in workshopping. A screenwriter may not be much help to a children’s book author, but if you can manage to pull together a group of people who are all interested in narrative journalism, you’re in business!

Though by the same token, a fiction writer may be able to help a new memoirist with dialogue and character development, while a health or science writer may be able to share research tips.

Where:

My old writing group used to meet after class, at the diner around the corner. It was convenient to all of us, was able to accomodate our group (with room for spreading out our variuos papers, notebook, and pens), and we didn’t need to shout at each other in order to be heard. Plus, they made a mean egg salad sandwich.

In choosing your own venue, make sure to check out all possibilities in person, so that you can verify capacity, noise levels, etc. If you need Internet access, places such as Panera Bread provide free and unlimited wireless connections. Check out this Mashable post on 30+ Ways to Find Wi-Fi Hotspots.

Of course, you can always just rotate between your various home bases. Potluck, anyone?

When:

The frequency of your get-togethers is entirely up to you, but in figuring this out, you should consider the fact that leaving too much time between meetups could cause you to lose momentum, while leaving too little time could ensure that no one ever gets a damn thing done in the interim.

Why:

There are a number of valid reasons for forming a writing group. The sense of community alone is attractive to someone like myself, who wears her pajamas for far too long each morning, and has started having entire conversations with her cats. Aside from that:

  • it’s nice to have fresh, objective eyes on your writing, for issues like spelling, grammar, style, information gaps, etc.
  • having someone that you’re accountable to means you’ll be less likely to slack off.
  • having someone to bounce ideas off of means you’re less likely to mistakenly pitch a half-formed idea to an editor who will then proceed to think less of you.
  • having a group populated by people with varying interests, and different reading habits, can open you up to a whole new world of publication possibilities.
  • the members of your group may be able to share contacts and opportunities with you. And of course, you’ll do likewise.
  • being among a group of people who share your passion will fire you up like nothing else.

How:

The rules of workshopping vary from group to group, but those in my group benefited from providing each other with weekly homework assignments and deadlines, and developing quantitative goals for pitches and submissions.

Have you been, or are you now in a writing group of your own? How do you operate, and how has this affected your personal work habits, and your professional achievements? I’d love to hear your stories!

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