Tuesday, October 6, 2015

How To Have A Writing Group Where No One Kills Anyone Else

A photo posted by Ellen Brickley (@brickleyelle) on
Warning: this post will contain a terrible pun. 

I took a writing class a couple of weekends ago, and apart from the actual writing insights, one thing stuck out for me.

Most of the participants had travelled to Dublin from another part of the country for the class. One had stayed in the city the night before (I had taken a bus for twenty minutes).

 A community of other writers is so important. It's possible to find it online (I'm about to start beta reading a novel for a blogging friend who became a Facebook friend) but sometimes you just need another human physically present so you can feel connected. Living in a capital city, it's not difficult for me to find classes, launches and events to keep my bookish self nourished, but it's not so easy everywhere. Writing groups can be a great way to stay connected to your goals.

So if you've found some like-minded folk (don't ask me how to do that part!) and want to start a writing group, here are my tips:

1. Make sure everyone is on the same page (I am so sorry about that but I did warn you)

I once started a writing group with the explicit intention of meeting to write together for motivation. We all knew that's what we were there to do. If someone wanted feedback, that was absolutely dine - but we all recognised that this was a departure from what we usually did, and that our goal was Words On Page.

Your goal may be getting feedback, or writing new material (as ours was) or talking about writing in a safe, friendly and supportive space. Your goal may be anything you like, but make sure everyone knows what it is and agrees that it's what they want to get from the group.

2. Let the group change if that's what it needs

Our group gradually moved more towards sharing work for critique. This as a natural progression as we all got better at our initial objective of getting words on the page - we went from wanting words to wanting better words. This worked for us, as we were a small group at largely the same stage).

3. But be prepared to steer the group back to its roots if it deviates too much - provided that's what everyone wants

There are nice ways to make that happen. "It's been great catching up with everyone, but I am looking forward to making a dent in my word count tonight."

Or "We've been doing lots of writing lately. Is everyone happy to keep doing that or shall we try to do more critiquing again?"

4. Be very careful who you invite.

This a good rule for life in general, to be honest, but it goes double for writing groups. I've recently been meeting a friend to write. Last week she brought her fiance, a cartoonist, who got the memo about what were there to achieve and drew while we wrote (aside: he got engrossed in drawing. A lady at the next table got engrossed in watching him draw. I got engrossed in watching her watching him draw. Then I got back to work).

However, the temptation to invite other people into a group that's working well is strong. And sometimes it is smart, and you should invite them, if they are a good fit. But make sure they have the same goals as the existing group, and make sure they want a writing group and not a hanging-out-with-people-regularly group (also wonderful, but not what you're there to provide).

Also, resist the temptation to include friends you rarely get to see, as two sad things will happen. One, you will not get any writing done because you will be too busy catching up with your lovely friend, and two, you will feel sad about catching up with your lovely friend, and those two feelings go together like pickles and chocolate (not at all).

Basically, all of my tips boil down to two things, and they apply to all of writing:

1. Figure out what you (individually and collectively) want to do with your precious time.
2. Defend it wicked hard.

You can throw in random Boston slang too. That never made anything worse.