Do you belong to a writers’ group?
Some authors don’t feel they have much benefit … and I’ll agree that if you’ve got several published books that are selling well, you’re probably rather beyond the local writers’ circle stage of things.
If you’re at an earlier point in your writing career, though, a writers’ group can be a very helpful, nurturing part of your writing life.
When you meet with fellow writers on a regular basis, you’ll (hopefully!) find that:
- You feel supported and understood. It’s hard to overstate how critical this can be, as a writer. If no-one in your family or current group of friends “gets” what it is to be a writer, and sees your writing as a weird hobby at best (and a waste of time at worst), then you need the presence of fellow writers in your life.
- You get practical help with honing your writing. While not all writers’ groups will workshop members’ writing, many do, and you can also approach other group members to set up a private manuscript swap.
- You set aside time to write. Some groups exist primarily as opportunities to write alongside one another – if you join a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) meetup in November, that’s how it’ll work. Other groups do a writing exercise or two each time, then move on to other activities for the rest of the session.
- You’ll learn more about great writing. Your group might invite speakers, or members might take it in turns to give a short talk about a particular aspect of creative writing. If you’re workshopping one another’s works-in-progress, you’ll also find you learn a lot from examining other people’s mistakes (and strengths).
While there are lots of excellent online groups out there, and these can be a great support, I’m focusing here on local groups that meet regularly in-person. It’s hard to achieve that kind of interaction and focus online.
How to Find a Local Group
It isn’t always easy to find writers local to you. Good ways to begin are to:
Try your local library. They might have a writers’ group meeting there (our library has just started up a monthly group), or they might have flyers or posters from a local group.
Post in a local group on Facebook. Ask around to see what’s going on … you may find there’s more happening than you realise!
Look on meetup.com. You’ll need to sign up, then you can search for local groups about “Writing” (or, indeed, about anything else you’re interested in).
Joining an established group can be a bit nervewracking. In my experience, most writers are very welcoming of new members and even if it takes you a session or two to find your feet, you’ll soon feel very much part of the group.
How to Start Your Own Writers’ Group
If you don’t have a local group, or if it isn’t really suitable for you (e.g. it meets at a time you can’t make, it focuses on a genre you don’t write) then why not start your own group?
This could be as simple as meeting for a weekly coffee with a couple of writer friends, or as involved as a large group that hires a room and invites speakers.
Some good ways to begin are to:
- Ask around! Who do you know who already writes (and who lives locally to you)? You might send out an email around local friends, or ask on Facebook. You may be surprised to find that a fellow parent at the school gates or a friend you know through some local volunteering is also a budding writer.
- Advertise for members. You might put up a poster in your local library or shops, or reach out through local Facebook groups (we have a huge “community noticeboard” on Facebook for our local area).
Once you’ve got some initial interest, you’ll want to think about:
Timings of meetings. This depends very much on the people who are likely to come along. I’ve set up a small group with a couple of local friends that meets on alternate Thursday mornings in term time (we all have small children). If you want to attract a wide range of people, an evening group is best – try a 7pm or 7.30pm start time, as this gives people time to get home from work and have dinner!
Format of meetings. No two writers’ groups are quite the same. Will you invite guest speakers? Do writing exercises? Work on your own projects in companionable silence (followed by a drink)? Set homework? Workshop one another’s pieces (and get everyone to bring plenty of photocopies)..? You may want to have an initial meeting or two to find out what other members would like.
Number of members. You may want to set a limit on member numbers. It’s tricky to workshop with more than ten people, for instance … but you probably won’t be inviting guest speakers if you only have half a dozen members.
Level of experience. Most local writing groups are open to anyone, at any level of experience. They do tend to be aimed at writers who aren’t yet making a living writing, and who probably aren’t yet published. If you’re more experienced than this, you might be better served by conferences and perhaps a private “mastermind group” of local writers at a similar level to you.
If you’ve never been part of a writers’ group before, I’d hugely encourage you to give it a go: it might be just what you need to take the next steps with your writing. And if you’ve got experience of being part of one (or even of setting up your own), then do share your tips and ideas in the comments below.