When it comes to running a writers’ group, it’s an exciting endeavor. Whether you’re all meeting up in a park once a week to write poems inspired by nature and discuss them or emailing each other fiction submissions to analyze every Thursday at your favorite local coffee shop, there’s something so special about sharing the love of writing with other people. And besides, it’s got the added benefit that you’re feeling more inspired, writing more and getting brave enough to send out your submissions to magazines.
But when it comes to running a writers’ group as efficiently as possible—and as sensitively as possible, considering this can be pretty personal stuff you’re penning—you’ll want to make sure you follow these tips:
1 Set some rules
If you want to have a healthy group dynamic, it’s a good idea to set some rules. Not only logistical things like how late you’re allowed to arrive or how many submissions everyone has to read a week, but also how you’re going to give criticisms and suggestions. Emotions can be high in a creative environment, but coming up with rules together will give everyone a sense of camaraderie and fairness.
It’s not like you’re running a kindergarten class or anything like that, but because many people are going to feel quite sensitive, you do want to talk to members when they’re breaking the rules. There’s a reason why artists are more likely to marry other artists and elementary school teachers–and it’s because they want their art to be understood, but they also want to have some rules to follow.
2 Use prompts
When it comes to giving everyone ideas for their assignments, being a good writing group leader means providing everyone with great prompts. For example, you could check out the Lists for Writers app, which has tons of information on it to inspire writers, from personality behaviors, plots like the seven basic plots and 36 dramatic situations, settings, genre ideas, and entire encyclopedia of myths to inspire you.
97 percent of American writers don’t even finish writing the novel they wanted to start writing in the first place–so this is a chance for you to really change these aspiring novelists’ lives.
3 Hold members accountable
This is one of the trickiest rules, but if you’re enforcing rules you’ve all come up with together and expressing disapproval when one of your members has clearly not completed any reading for the group (even though he fully expects everyone to comment on his piece), then it’s going to be better for everyone. If you do have to confront anyone, it’s a good idea to email first, then remind them personally and in private after meetings. Having this as a set rule in the beginning, with all the details of your policy, will also make things feel fair and not personal.
Just because the typical American spends on average 5 hours a day on their phone, that doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable for someone to have their phone out while short stories are being critiqued.
4 Have motivational activities
Are some of your members saying they wish they submitted more to magazines? Then make one of your meetings a SUBMIT-A-THON, where writers can research the best literary magazines to match with their styles (and you can even train them to use Duotrope and Submittable), find out who the editors are, and write submission letters to them with their attached favorite pieces.
And if anyone’s interested in writing screenplays like People You May Know, encourage your writers to write a certain minimum of words per day. Run a nonfiction narratives group for athletes who write? Then encourage everyone to buy journals together at a bookstore and record activities from their everyday lives. We aren’t living in Iceland, where 1 in 10 people will publish a book, so you’ll want to be as inspiring as possible.
5 Provide recommended reading
It’s been said before, and we’re going to say it again: a writer is only going to write so well if they aren’t reading constantly, opening them up to new styles and learning lessons related to structure, plot, character development, and point of view. According to Stephen King, “The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing… Constant reading will pull you into a place… where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness.”
Because your writers will feel part of something larger and start to imitate the literature you assign them, they’ll grow even faster as writers. Besides, it’s worth listening to King, because he has a net worth value of $400 million. With any luck, your writing group can help you develop your skills to turn your hobby into a real source of income, solving all your money woes once and for all!
As you can see, there are some great ways out there to make your writers’ group the best it can be. So get all your writer friends together (or place an ad online), pick up your pen, and start writing.