Top Tips on Forming Your Own Writers Group

 Top Tips on Forming Your Own Writers Group

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I really can’t stress enough the importance of my writer’s critique group. My crit buddies are more than professional colleagues. They are also very close friends. But forming your own writer’s group from scratch can be tricky.

1 Nominate a leader

A group needs to be organised and led by a named individual. One way of ensuring that the group is led by the right person (ie someone you has the same ideas as you) is to become the leader yourself. However the leader should not be a dictator. Just because they are good at organising everyone doesn’t mean they are the best writer or that they give the best feedback. So even if you are in charge, remember to keep checking in with the other members of the group that they are happy with the way things are going.

Jo Franklin is the leader of the group

Me trying to be a positive leader

 

2 Decide the Aims/Rules/Parameters of the Writer’s Group

Agree at the beginning,

  • how often you are going to meet
  • how many people will submit work for comment at each meeting
  • how many words each submission will be
  • whether you are going to submit and read the work before the meeting and the deadline for submitting to other members.
  • rules for constructive feedback ( I thought everyone knew this but I have been caught out before. I probably need to do another blog post on this)
  • what to do if something goes wrong. Sadly this tends to fall to the leader to sort out any infighting. I suggest that the leader gains support from the other members before tackling a difficult member of the team. I probably need to do another blog post on this because when a critique group goes toxic, it is very unpleasant.

Alli and Emma snuggling up on our weekend away

3 Keep the group to a manageable number.

I think six is the ideal number. It’s a good number to fit around one table and gives you enough people for varied feedback even if one member of the group is ill. If it becomes apparent that one member is not able to commit to the group then look around for a replacement before the whole thing collapses.

4 Define the Genre for the Group

If possible, stick to one genre (or age group if writing for children) for the critique group. This will avoid any genre vs literary arguments and having to justify the language chosen if writing for children. There can always be flexibility if an established member of the group goes off at a tangent and starts writing outside the usual genre. However the group should reserve the right to ask someone to leave if they go off piste and the rest of the group don’t like it.

Jen knows how to enjoy herself

5 Recruitment of New Members

The membership of a critique group can be a bit like shifting sands. At times, people will leave and it will be necessary to recruit new members. The best way to find new members is by personal recommendation. The quality of an individual’s feedback is more important than the quality of their writing! It’s a good idea to draw up an list of expectations for a new member so that they know what they are letting themselves in for.

6 Balance

You should think of your critique group as a co-operative. Reading and critiquing other people’s work takes time. Time away from your own writing so a group works when everyone puts in the same amount of effort and hopefully gets the same level of reward in return. It is payment in kind. If someone repeatedly expects other people to critique their work but can’t be bothered to spend time to comment in return, resentment will start to form among other members. Resentment is bad!

Tasha – you don’t have to be mad to work hear but it helps

7 Trust

As you get to know each other you will soon learn who to trust. All writers need constructive, helpful feedback. Sometimes that feedback will hurt, but as long as the critic can back up what they are saying with hard evidence, you really should listen to what they are saying. That doesn’t mean you have to act on it, but you should listen, go away and digest what the person says. The chances are they have highlighted a problematic section of your work, even if they haven’t nailed the exact problem. So to instill trust, all feedback needs to be precise and constructive.

And if it all works out you will have a ready made guest list for your book launch and friends for life.

The gang together at my book launch

Goodbye Lovely Friend

by Jo Franklin, children’s author

This week I turned my full focus on a new project. It’s one that has been bubbling away in the background for a while, in a couple of different guises, but as I sent my latest wip (work in progress) off to my agent for what will hopefully be her final comments, the time had come to throw myself into something new. I felt totally invincible as I do every time I start something new. The publishing world were going to love this book. What’s not to like? It isn’t even written yet. There can be no bad words in it.  So I began. It was great.

And then I received the terrible news that a lovely friend of mine had died.

Sue Hyams

Sue Hyams

Thank you Sue Eves for this rare photo.

I guess it wasn’t totally unexpected. Cancer is like that. It creeps up silently, screams aggressively right in your face and then dares you to strike back. The doctors have a powerful array of weapons but they are something of a blunt instrument and nearly wipe out the whole person, not just the unwelcome visitor.

Once Sue had come to terms with the diagnosis – Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer – she got on with it. The prognosis wasn’t good, I can’t remember the exact figure she told me but it was something like only a 20% chance of survival. I can do the maths. It meant that there was an 80% chance she wouldn’t make it. But we never talked about the 80% and concentrated on the 20% instead. Grueling treatment followed and some serious surgery followed by more treatment. She also turned to alternative treatments to supplement the traditional and I believe this was a major factor in her being able to reclaim her health for a while.

She was a great friend to me during this time. I was cracking up and she didn’t bat an eyelid about my more bizarre behaviour. In fact she was probably the only person who could see exactly how unbalanced I was. She didn’t judge. We talked about stuff. Old and new and we both got better.

Of course, I wasn’t the only person in her life and she shared with me her excitement for her daughter’s progress through the various ups and downs of being a budding actress. She told me about her sister who lives in Wales with a gaggle of horses. Somewhere in the mix her mother died so there was lots to deal with there. All the time we were both writing. Sometimes the output was better than others. That’s the writer’s lot.

And then the cancer came back. More treatment and I knew my friend was slipping away. On Thursday 8th September 2016 her suffering came to an end. She was 56.

It’s been a tough few days. I had to tell our friends. Share my grief. Hear theirs. I am sad that my lovely friend was taken away too soon. But I am also grateful to have known her. We had a laugh and shared all sorts of knocks and bumps along the way.

My life goes on now and although she isn’t with me physically, she is in my heart and I hold her enthusiasm for my own writing very close. I’m going to go back to my new project with renewed gusto, because I’m writing it for you, Sue. With a massive thank you for being my friend.