by Kristin Thiel, Senior Editor, Indigo
As someone who has worked with authors for many years and is also myself an author, I know exactly how to catch your attention:
Internet video break! Let’s it’s-related-to-what-we’re-working-on-so-it’s-not-procrastination procrastinate by checking out the short video “Non-Crappy Writing Groups” by writer (and clever information-presenter) Yuki Zalkow. Go on now—but don’t click on a cat video afterward! Come. Straight. Back. Here.
This month, we’re looking at writing groups and public writing spaces. (By public, I mean anything greater than one writer alone; by space, I mean physical or temporal.) How do I find or make a good writing group? is a common question I hear as an editor and, as a writer, I’ve been a part of a variety of ones. Most recently, I’ve started a Portland-based write-in that’s free and open to anyone looking for a dedicated space and time to write independently but in community (every third Tuesday, drop in 6–8 p.m., Collective Agency). Writers choose their focus and projects, but I’ll start offering some prompts for those who want to shake their muscles loose. Speaking of which, Indigo Editing’s monthly prompt-based Mini Sledgehammer writing contests are another form of writing groups in public writing spaces.
There are several components to writing groups, and all deserve careful consideration. Here are some questions to ask yourself and others when you’re trying to form a group or establish a dedicated public space for writing:
What type of group do you want: the writing component?
• Leadership: a dedicated facilitator, one member (who also participates by writing and critiquing), or rotating responsibility
• Inspiration: new prompts or existing projects
• Work: write on the spot or send pages ahead of time
• Sharing: author reads own work aloud to the group or the members read silently to themselves
• Response: written critique, spoken critique, or no critique; how extensive should critiques be, and should authors ask questions to guide discussion or to clarify reader responses
What type of group do you want: the social component?
• Food and Drink: BYO or potluck, and what kinds (full meals or snacks, how to account for dietary considerations, alcohol or not), or none
• Space: group member’s house or business, a café or bar, in a park or online; pay for meeting space or negotiate free space; meet regularly and at what intervals or meet only around big writing events, such as NaNoWriMo
• Related Activities: attending readings together; discussing assigned published work; doing writing, reading, or literacy advocacy work together
• Socializing: allow off-topic conversation or request for that be saved for times outside the meeting
What type of people do you want in your group?
• Serious writers who are also serious readers
• Serious readers who maybe aren’t as serious about writing
• People who write “like” you or in your genre
• People who have been published
• People who are currently striving to be published
• People who don’t want to be published
• Open membership (the space you use may require this if you are to use it for free) or a specific mix of people
What issues might arise, and can you be proactive about some?
• Potential Issues: a disrespectful member, a disorganized group, a member whose goals are not being met, attrition
• Prevention Measures: interview member candidates, ask members to sign a writing-group “contract,” write down and post rules, have regular group-health and members’ goal-health check-ins
Most of you who are reading this article consider—or should consider—your writing as a business (whether or not you do, or want to, make money from it). That means that researching agents is a business activity, buying a new pen is a business expense, and dedicating regular time to write is a business decision. And so is making or using a writing group or space. A “bad” group can do real harm to a writer’s work and goals; a “good” one can propel writing and confidence to new heights—and while the definition of each is subjective, the potential benefit to your work makes it worth taking the effort to find the right group.
Kristin Thiel is the senior editor and director of community engagement at Indigo. As a writer, Kristin has been in numerous writing groups and has learned from each one’s unique structure, rules, successes, and missteps. As an editor, she’s heard often from other writers longing to find the right group, and her advice first and foremost is that writers need to consider the joining or forming of a group as a serious part of the business of writing.