In my last post, I talked about the advantages of working with a writers groups. A supportive group of writer-friends provides welcome camaraderie, while offering honest critical insight and bringing new perspectives to your work – the keyword being supportive.
In a good group everyone wins – and the rewards are immense. In the wrong group, a member’s experience can be anywhere from mildly disappointing to utterly devastating.
Eight years ago, I’d nearly given up on working with a group. I’d been involved with numerous workshops over the years, the fit never quite right. In some, members were harsh and competitive; in others, the prevailing attitude was too relaxed to be useful. Today, I feel blessed to work with four wonderful caring, supportive women, whose friendship sustains me, and whose keen eye teases the best out of my work.
Here are tips and insights, culled from more than fifteen years of working in groups.
Finding Your Group
Before getting started, imagine your ideal group. Are members male or female? Or both? Do ratios matter? How many people – max and minimum – would you prefer? What are their ages? How experienced are they as writers? Critics? How diverse – socially, culturally, racially – is your group? What are your meeting place criteria?
If you enjoy working online, you’re in luck. On the Internet, writers from all over the world can connect and collaborate. Critique.org – to cite just one example – a 10,000-member organization established in 1995, offers writers the opportunity to have their work critiqued for free in exchange for critiquing the work of others.
If you prefer to meet in person, you may have to do a little more legwork.
Begin by mobilizing your network. Does a trusted writer-friend have an interest in forming a group? How about a neighbor? A friend of a friend? Someone in your religious organization? The PTO at your child’s school? You’ll be amazed at the number of people who write. Colleagues, teammates, gym buddies, college pals – you can find potential candidates in any of these networks.
If you strike out, take a class. After writing workshops, members often form groups. In fact, I encourage my B.C. students to form peer workshops. In class, you’ll meet many enthusiastic writers. Best of all, you’ll see them in action. You’ll get a feel for their writing style and ability, and you’ll see how they handle critique. Within a few weeks, you’ll know which classmates to approach, and which you ought to avoid.
In Boston, the Grub Street Writer’s Workshop offers a variety of excellent, low-cost writing courses for beginners as well as advanced and experienced writers. There may be a similar organization in your area. If not, check out the courses offered by your town’s community center or the evening program at the local high school. Or take a course through the continuing education program at a college or university.
Next stop, book clubs. Writers are readers – and readers are often writers. Several of the women in the book club at our condo complex have expressed an interest in writing. Go to meetings, strike up conversations, put out feelers. Maybe offer to host an informational meeting. You may be surprised by the positive response.
If you don’t belong to or have access to a book club, attend readings hosted by your library or bookstore. Readings, particularly those given by lesser-known authors, tend to attract a regular crowd. You’ll soon recognize faces; you’ll know the writers by the questions they ask. If you have the time and inclination, organize a meet up after the reading. No better time to talk about writing than after a stirring reading.
As a last resort, advertise. I’ll admit, I’m wary of personal ads. But I do know people who’ve gone this route with great success. In the old days, people placed want ads in the local paper. Now, you can post your announcement on social networking sites.
If you decide to post an announcement, be sure, before posting, to articulate a clear goal. Know precisely the sort of people you hope to recruit. As part of their application – yes, it’s OK to ask candidates to apply – require a writing sample. You might include a Q & A with specific questions about their approach to critique.
Once you’ve set the criteria, stick to your guns. Don’t change your mind – e.g., don’t accept a novice into a group of pros – because you’re reluctant to hurt someone’s feelings. If you accept that person and the group collapses, you may lose a friend.
Many thanks to Becca Boucher for inspiring this post!