If you resolved to write your novel this year, you gotta get yourself a writer’s group.

Know that I hope you said that like the SNL “you gotta get a chandelier” sketch. If you didn’t, please go back and read the opening line of this post in the correct way.

How to Start a Writer's Group

Original photo byAndrew Neel

(This post literally has nothing to do with chandeliers.)

Starting a writer’s group can potentially be the best investment you make in your writing career. It gets eyes on your work, and allows you to get the edits and opinions you need on your writing. It’s like getting one of those MFA writing workshops to happen, but in the comfort of your own home or the local coffee shop. And bonus: You can get a more focused group of people together so that you know you’re getting relevant critiques.

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But, so, like, here’s the thing. IT’S HELLA HARD TO CREATE A WRITER’S GROUP.

Seriously. Finding good people whose schedules align is like finding a DADGUM UNICORN.

I belonged to one for a few years, and it definitely was a group of writers. But it’s also important to state that it was not a good writer’s group. The group was made up of several people from a writing class that was less than ideal, and it really was an opportunity for irrelevant middle-aged men to tell the women of the group that they didn’t have stories worth telling.

Obviously, I don’t want you to start this kind of writer’s group. But I think I have enough bad experience to tell you what you need to look for, and the boundaries you need to set.

And, full disclosure: I’m in the process of setting up a writer’s group. So I created this list to make the ideal writer’s group, and I hope it helps you as much as it’s helped me.

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How to Start a Writer’s Group

001: Find writers at the same stage in their career.

Okay. Obviously, J.K. Rowling and Stephen King aren’t going to join your group. And on that same note, any writer who is at a stage in their career that is beyond the stage you’re at isn’t going to join the group. For that reason, it’s really important to pick writers who are at the same stage in the game as you. This isn’t one of those things where you pick people who you can use to network. Save that for the conferences. You need writers who you can work with and grow with.

The other side of the coin is that you definitely don’t want to get a group of writers together who are so green and new that they don’t have anything figured out yet. Unless that’s where you are too — no judgement. Everyone starts somewhere, and beginners need writer’s groups too. But it’s not going to work if everyone in that group isn’t a beginner.

Ultimately, you want to create a group that can benefit from the group the same way, and will grow together. For this reason, pick writers who are at your level, and heading in the same direction.

002: Find writers who are the same, but different.

One of the main downfalls of my past writing group was we were too different. I don’t write for middle-aged men, and they didn’t write anything that would appeal to me as an audience. That’s why you need to find writers that would fall into your audience demographic. I know a lot of people will make the argument that you want a diverse range of opinions on your work. And I agree. But there’s really no point in getting opinions that at the end of the day, don’t really matter.

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If a person’s opinion is that your work isn’t very good just because it’s not something they wouldn’t normally read, why would you want it?

So, that’s why I’ve been looking for writers who would fall into my audience demographic, just as I’d fall into theirs. We don’t all write the same genre or even the same types of characters. But I’ve taken a lot of care to make sure that each person I want to invite into the group has something to offer everyone else.

003: Agree on a schedule.

I wrote about doing my writing first in my ideal morning routine post, and I’m doing that first because it’s the most important thing. I think that mentality has to transfer to the group too. It’s really easy to let other things come first. No one wants to sit in a room and have others tell you everything you did wrong with your latest chapter when you could be playing mini golf or binge watching Peaky Blinders on Netflix. So the schedule for meetings needs to become sacred in order for the writer’s group to work.

Pick a time, and meet. Your group may like to meet every week or twice a month, or once a month might be all your schedule can take. Whatever works is fine. Then once you’ve figured out how often, set the schedule, and stick to it. Sure, people will get the flu or have emergencies. But it should generally be understood that meetings are important, and shouldn’t be skipped.

Oh, and everyone should bring something they’ve worked on. And that brings me to my next point.

004: Set expectations for meetings.

It’s important to get on the same page as soon as possible. Decide what you want to cover in those meetings. Do you expect each member to email their pages before the meeting? Do you want the members to print off copies of their work and distribute them at the meeting? Will each writer read their work out loud at the meeting? Do you want to have a traditional workshop vibe?

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Whatever you decide for the writer’s group, make sure that everyone knows what will happen and what is expected of them. That way, you can be infinitely more productive during those meetings, and get the most out of them.

And everyone should know the limit for what they can bring. If the limit is 5 pages, double-spaced in 12-point Times New Roman, then that’s the limit. Anything over that doesn’t get critiqued. Eager beavers don’t deserve extra writing help when they overstep the boundaries.

005: Go beyond the group.

Starting a writer’s group is way more than just getting a group of writers together to talk about craft. You’ve basically started a gang. You should absolutely get sweet leather jackets made with your logo. And while I wouldn’t recommend that you go out and spray graffiti all over the town, you are required (basically by writer law) to have each other’s backs at all times.

This can look like different things to different groups, but to me it means that the people in the group share each other’s online content and ensure social media engagement for everyone else in the group. Y’all roll deep during the meetings, at the writing conferences, and on Twitter.

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Tell Me About Your Writer’s Group

Now it’s your turn. How do you think a writer’s group should work? What does your ideal writer’s group look like? What does the ideal writer’s group meeting entail?

4 Responses

  1. My writers’ group started about seven years ago when I told a friend, “I’m going to Starbucks every Thursday night to write. You should come.” A couple years later we added two more friends (whose work I had edited before so I was intimate with their writing), and the four of us have been going out to write once a week (more or less) ever since. The thing that makes it “easy” is that we don’t have high expectations. We are there for each other no matter what but we understand when sometimes writing doesn’t get done or when kids get sick and we can’t meet. We have a group chat on our phones and often share articles or podcasts or conferences that we’ve discovered. They’ve helped me write (and publish) two novels and three short stories. They are my ideal writers’ group.
    We go to Starbucks every Monday night. You should come. 🙂

    1. That sounds amazing! I love that you share articles and podcasts in a group chat. And I may take you up on this offer, only after the semester is over since I now teach on Monday nights from 6-9.

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