Years ago, when my friend Amy asked me if I wanted to be a part of her writing group, I was skeptical.
I was just wrapping up my masters degree, and had been a part of three different writing groups, all of which had lasted no more than a meeting or two before going down in flames. I knew having a group of writers to share work with was important (because all of my instructors had said as much), but it just didn’t seem to be working out.
Luckily, Amy knew what she was doing. Or maybe she just had really good instincts. Either way, the group of five women she pulled together was amazing. We met every two weeks for five years. It was a formative experience. Though the group has morphed, and is headed in a new direction (more on that soon), I wanted to share the things that I feel made the group so successful.
In my experience, the best writing groups:
- Have five members. With five you still have a group if one, or even two people have to miss a meeting. Our rule was always that if three of us could make it we kept the meeting on the calendar. (If only two of us could make it, we usually just met up for drinks.) More than five, and you have to wait too long to have your own work come up in the rotation for feedback. Five is the sweet spot.
- Have members that live within a few miles of each other. It’s hard to make time for a writing group, and adding a commute doesn’t help. The other, failed, groups I participated in usually started to fall apart because people didn’t feel like driving after a long day of work.
- Are diverse. I’m partial to all-female groups, but I loved that our group had a wide range of ages (from 20s up through 50s). Three of us were married, two weren’t. Three of us worked in academia, two did not. Of those of us who had kids, one was remarried with teenagers, and two had young kids. We also wrote in different genres. From fiction, to stage play, to memoir, to musical, we all brought something different to the group. I actually thought this would make it difficult to give feedback, but it worked fantastically and kept the group interesting.
- Meet on a regular schedule. We chose every-other Thursday at a member’s home. We would all get out our calendars and schedule three months at a time. I know some groups meet more or less often, but for us, that was perfect.
- Have an agreed upon structure. We began each meeting with half an hour of social time (or time for the chronically late to arrive). Then half an hour of feedback for one writer, followed by half an hour feedback for a second writer. We wrapped up with a half hour of time to plan who would submit next, give each other advice, talk about what books we’re reading, etc. Who ever was hosting was in charge of keeping the group on schedule.
- Wine. Lots of wine.
If anyone else out there has tips for forming a kick-ass writing group, I’d love to hear them.