How-to Guides

Just can't stand to find yourself outside the warm embrace of a college writing class? Come in from the cold by creating a supportive environment in your own living room. Besides an extra deadline every week — and who couldn't use extra motivation to sit down in front of the keyboard — starting a writing group gives you a chance to talk shop with writing peers you admire. As the group thrives you can being to build a library of publications that members can trade and research for possible submission.

Here’s a simple checklist to get started:

1. Make a list of classmates and/or writer-friends who have shown an interest in getting feedback on their work and/or are interested in doing group-writing exercises and discussing books. Contact them. Reach out to people who make you jealous when you hear their work aloud. Writing groups work best when everybody feels like everybody else is setting the bar higher. Word of warning: if a possible member is hedging, has an impossible schedule or is making unrealistic demands before the first session pass them over. Folks have to be committed to a writing community for it to function.

2. Set a date and arrange a meeting place that accommodates everyone's needs. We suggest starting on the originator’s home turf so you can control noise and food and beverage levels.

3. Determine a page limit for everyone's work (between two and ten pages is reasonable). The piece shouldn't be written to impress, but should be a story of some importance to the author. A good choice of work would be something you don't think is firing on all cylinders, but you're having trouble pinning down what's missing.

4. When everyone has settled in, you might consider a warm-up exercise (five to ten minute free-write, for example).  Keep it informal, but stay on task.

5. If you've read a novel as a group, open with discussions. You can start each discussion by analysis of a particular aspect of the book.  Take turns each week leading the discussion topics.

6. Everyone should read some work aloud. Each reader should give a reasonable amount of background for whatever excerpt they're about to read, and should also ask the audience to be aware of specific story points.

7. After each reading, each person in the group should give a productive comment and/or question concerning the story. The writers should listen and take notes and not defend the excerpt that was read. Be grateful for each comment. You can judge what’s not helpful at home.

8. Make sure you have enough time so that EVERYONE gets a chance to read.

9. Consider trading manuscripts at the end of each session.  Set a schedule during first week's session and stick to it. Remember, don't over-burden yourselves with more than two stories to read each week.

10.   Most important of all is HAVE FUN!