Writers need other writers. It’s good for us to get together for feedback, encouragement and, for some of us, accountability. When I was ready to get back to writing after a long dry spell I’d like to blame on motherhood but probably can’t, I knew that some kind of writing group was a must, but I just wasn’t up for shelling out the bucks for a class. I tend not to be much of a DIY-er. If I have the money and can throw it at a problem, I usually will. Is this my finest quality? Hardly, but if there is a silver lining to aging, it’s that I finally know who I am. In this case, however, my desire to save money and accommodate a busy schedule won out over my tendency toward sloth, and I put together my own writing group. I’ve been in several of these through the years, some were successful and some fell apart almost immediately, and so I’ve learned a few things. Of course, as in any relationship, there’s an element of timing and chemistry, but it’s not all luck. If you think meeting regularly with a group of writers sounds like something that would nurture you creatively and get you to finally finish that novel, then here are a few tips to help you make it happen.
1) Like the members of your group, but not too much. If you like them too much you’ll spend your time talking smack and not writing. Choose smart people you know want to write, and who you can enjoy being with for a few hours at a time.
2) The group should be more than three people and less than eight. Too few and you fall apart when someone get’s a little busy and can’t make it, too many and meetings run long without enough time for everyone’s work. Personally, I’d shoot for six members.
3) If you can, have a mixed gender group. It spices things up. But remember…
4) Do not hook up with anyone in your writing group. I’ve been married for a while so this hasn’t been an issue, but back in the day it was a sure way to wreck a good thing. There are many reasons for this, but since we’re all adults here, I’m sure you know what I mean.
5) Speaking of us being all adults, let’s keep it that way, shall we? I’m a mom, I know it can be hard to get away from the kids to meet with a group of writers, but you’re just going to have to McGiver some form of childcare and spend a few hours on your work. Kids make us clean up our language and force us to behave. Neither of those has any place in your writing group.
6) This one hurts me more than it hurts you, but I don’t think you should drink any alcohol during your meeting. It increases the chance that you will spend your precious three hours sharing hair removal tips and posting pictures of your group on Instagram. Gather for happy hour to celebrate each other’s success and hard work, but stick to tea for your meetings.
7) Write a little bit, every time you meet. I don’t know why this matters, but it does. Think of it as the virgin sacrifice you make to your muses. When you start the group with a quick writing exercise (even ten minutes will do), you show the Universe you mean business.
8) Be gentle in your critique, but don’t bullshit. You have all set aside time, fought traffic, found childcare and declined all manner of fun social engagements to come together and get and give feedback that will make your work better. Assuming none of the members of your group are jerks, they want to hear your honest thoughts and you should want to hear theirs. You know the drill, “do unto others…”
9) Meet at least once a month. Once a week is the best, but not realistic for everyone, so do what you can. Consistency is key. Every week, every other week, whenever, but make it the same time and day and stick to it. I’m not kidding about this. The muses get real vindictive when you flake on your meetings, so show up.
10) Sharing your work with others can be the scariest thing in the world, which is why you shouldn’t forget your sense of humor. Be willing to laugh at yourself; how your hands shake when you read aloud, your adverb-y prose and your attempt to write your mommy-blog in the style of Junot Diaz. Writing is hard, and while you want to honor your efforts with serious attention, as Anne LaMott says, “Laughter is carbonated holiness.” If we can laugh together it lights our path so, you know, we don’t step on a slug or something.
(PS: If I had read this to my group before posting, they would have told me to cut that line about the slug. See? We all need a fresh eye.)
Now go forth, find a handful of people who want to write and start your group. It may last a month or a decade, but no matter, you will be a better writer for it. Stories are meant to be shared, and until those offers from agents start pouring in, you’ve got each other.