How to Run Your Writing Group

There is nothing so precious and productive as a good writing group. Why? It gives a writer:

  • Accountability — people are waiting to read your stuff, so you write it
  • Support — getting published ain’t easy, but we’re in it together
  • Skill-building — not just in writing, but also in giving and receiving critiques
  • Mentorship — writing improves rapidly and exponentially with experienced help
  • Cheese — we bring it. And then we eat it.

If you have not belonged to a writing group and are wondering what happens, read on.

The Red Notebook Society

The writing group I most recently belonged to (for fifteen years or so), is a highly secretive coterie known as “The Red Notebook Society” that met every second Monday for 2.5 hours (6:30-9pm).

Our meetings went like this:

– We rotated among member homes (there were 4-5 of us).

– We almost always brought work, up to 5 double-spaced pages each, a copy for each person.

– We all happened to be working on novels most of the time, but we sometimes brought flash fiction, short stories, poems, query letters–anything we wanted critiqued.

– We started each group with “my writing week”–taking turns to talk for a couple of minutes about how the writing went, what was new, if and where we got stuck, how agent or publisher queries were going, any conferences or workshops, and what we brought that night for critiquing.

– The first reader handed out copies of their pages, then read their work aloud.

– After the first person read their work silence ensued, except for the scratching of pens on the work itself. Then we each gave an oral critique of the work just read. Because we read and critique short pieces on the spot (rather than sending each other chapters ahead of time) we learned to critique with the understanding that we might not have the whole picture.

– The person being critiqued listened and took notes. The feedback I received in this group was without fail extraordinarily helpful.

– Everyone handed back their copy to the first reader.

– We did it again with readers #2, #3, and #4.

– At 9 we packed up, thanked the host, and made our ways home.

Between Meetings and Beyond

At some point between meetings, I would go over my written critique copies and incorporate the suggestions into my manuscript. Not all of them, of course, but plenty. Most.

– We also (and this is no small thing) acted as beta readers for each others’ completed manuscripts.

That’s it! The best kind of continuing education money can’t buy. If you don’t belong to a writing group, whether online or in your community, it is worth a try.