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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.