View Full Version : Keeping a Writing Group Going

08-30-2011, 08:42 AM
Hello, everyone. First (well, second) time poster here. I'm looking for advice on how to keep a writing group vital and active. I've just discovered this forum, and after a few days of browsing I've already picked up a lot of good information and advice. Apologies if I'm duplicating a previous topic here.

Most of my story is probably familiar. I've always wanted to write fiction, but all my attempts seemed to peter out as the demands of daily life intruded. What writing time I did have had to be given to my academic work. Last year, a local theater company sponsored a free ten-week writing group, and I bit the bullet and joined. There were seventeen people at the first meeting; by the end of the ten weeks we were down to about half a dozen still regularly attending, but they were all folks producing quality stuff, and going really got me fired up.

I started to really produce work for the first time instead of just writing a few paragraphs and saving the file. To my utter astonishment I even sold one of the first stories I sent out, to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. I'm having fun writing, and I seem to be having some success.

After the class was over a few of us said we would keep the group going. We've met a few times, but the last time was a couple of months ago, and only three people showed up. Obviously we need new blood, and we need ways to keep people engaged. We have advertised a bit--flyers at the library and such--but with no luck yet. We're in a college town, so I'm hoping the fall might bring new people in, but frankly I'm looking for any ideas I can find on how to make the group as vibrant as possible.

Any and all thoughts welcome.

08-30-2011, 09:53 PM
I think it might better help to know what you are doing at these meetings.

When I lived in a city that had a group, and I went they always had stuff going on.
The members would take time reading out snippets of work, get feedback and give it to other members.
They tried regulary (and succeeded) to get varying people in the industry to come in and share with the members. We had some local authors, a guy from a local pub company and even a few journalists. Which kept things interesting to hear their tips and tricks.
The group was very interactive and did writing exercises, writing games and what not...

Maybe you just need to be doing things other than just getting together, remember people will only come if it benefits them, if they can take away something from the group they've learned and you are all super welcoming.

08-30-2011, 11:13 PM

Whether it's a writing requirement, a critique requirement and/or an attendance one. The more serious you are about requirements the more serious the group will become.

Having said that it can still take awhile to get the right people. Recruit, using flyers, websites etc.

08-31-2011, 12:48 AM
I don't think it's obvious that you need new blood. I think it's obvious that you need an agreed-upon focus for the group.

There are basically three things writers can get from a group: Support/socializing, brainstorming (either stories or analyzing fiction or HTW books) and critique. Most groups will hit all of those, but will also have one as a primary focus--the thing that is done at every meeting.

This should be in place before you actively start getting members in. Once you have that in place, it's something to go in your advertising. It's possible that you're not getting people in because your advertising is vague and people don't know what you're all about.

I'd suggest that you contact all the original members of this group and ask them to get together at a Panera or a coffee house or whatever, and have an honest discussion about what kind of group the members want, need and will be active in. Then start getting together on a regular basis (one group I started regularly met in the cafe of a local B&N) and get the base group started and strong.

Once you've done that, you've got something to market. If you're meeting in a public place, like a coffee shop or a bookstore cafe, then other writers will notice and perhaps approach you.

My experience is that if you don't have that strong focus in the group, more people will just splinter what you have until there's no group left.

Best of luck with the group and your writing.

Karen Junker
08-31-2011, 01:59 AM
I've been in a lot of writing groups. The one that's been going the longest (which I no longer attend) is the one where everyone brings 3 pages to read aloud to the group at the meeting -- and usually only a few (3-4) of the dozen or so members ever attend. They constantly accept new members, usually by referral.

I put on a Meetup group for a couple of years where the focus was just writing, but there was always someone who just wanted to talk about their work, no matter what. That was a distraction. I've found with Meetups that if you have 80-100 members, you might get 10 or so who say they'll show up and then around 2-3 actually do show up. So it's sort of a numbers game.

Right now I have two online critique partners, one of whom I met here and one who I met at a convention. I trust that they would exchange work with me in a reasonably short period of time if I asked them. But that's after critting for over 60 people, most of whom did not respond to my first crit of their work.

People get busy. Even my most trusted crit partners can't always respond immediately. I think if I were looking for frequent crits, I'd try to form a relationship with several critters, so that there might be someone available at all times!

Good luck!

08-31-2011, 06:43 PM
I'm a grizzled critique group veteran--19 years in one group I co-founded after a writing class ended.

What's kept us going is hard to define but I'll give it a shot.
While we've become friends, we limit socializing time when we meet.
A right-sized group always has at least one member who produces something for critique at the next meeting, and it's not always the same person or people.
The work stands on its own, always. No reading aloud.
We all write in, and read a lot of, the same genre. This is a biggie.
Regardless of the pressures of real life, critique is expected from everyone. We've had people critique from the hospital, and one from what turned out to be his deathbed.
We all agree on a single goal--paid publication. While we sometimes encourage one another to experiment or explore, the results which reach out group are critiqued with that goal in mind.
We're all competent in writing mechanics, so we don't blow a lot of time correcting manuscripts and are instead able to focus on content.
While we've met at coffee houses, restaurants, and bars, nobody who's drunk is welcome.
We are in agreement on how to critique, which includes not only finding what isn't working but identifying what is.
We encourage one another, and commiserate as necessary. There's virtually no backstabbing since the group split in two in 2004. This is pretty cool, and I understand, fairly unusual.
We seek new members occasionally, inviting them to sit in on a meeting, get acquainted as we socialize a bit, observe as we critique, and ask questions afterward.
When someone who's sat in wants to join, we ask for a five-page writing sample in submission format. If we agree its writing mechanics are sound and the content is not in some way highly objectionable, we invite them to join us.
So far, no one who's joined has stayed for long. We don't know why; they make polite excuses, some of which may be true. Often it's that they are not able to devote the time and effort required.

Maryn, hoping this helps at least a little

09-01-2011, 04:34 PM
This is all tremendously helpful, guys, and gives me some things I definitely want to share with my group when next we meet. Many thanks!

09-01-2011, 05:19 PM
My group's been going for 16 years. Agree with much of what has been said here, but I'm adding my own experiences.

We are genre writing group focusing on sf, horror and fantasy. Though we will critique other genres submitted by current members, new members are made aware that if they don't have an interest in reading/writing in at least one of these genres, we are probably not the group for them.

We do have a 'vetting process'. Anyone unpublished has to submit an audition piece to join.

We have an organised committee - Chair; secretary; treasurer; social secretary; publicity officer; New Member Liaison. Although these positions are open to all members in reality it's the same people who keep holding the positions. Being on the committee is an entirely thankless task that requires extra work for no apparent benefit, but it's the committee that have kept the group going all these years because they do most of the work.

We have regular monthly meetings at a fixed venue, booked in advance so people know when meetings are and can plan their attendance accordingly.

Anyone who wants to submit work for critique must book a slot at the workshop in advance, and then send the piece out by email to all members at least two weeks prior. Hence, at the meeting everyone has had time to read it and make note of their comments. Only the first three chapters of novels can be workshopped at a regular meeting. Anyone who wants a full novel critique has to arrange a separate meeting just or their novel, and they generally will ask for volunteers instead of using everyone in the group. We have learned from experience that critiquing a novel a chapter at a time, over a period of months (or even years) just doesn't work.

We try to have speaker events two or three times a year, where we will invite a writer, agent or editor to come and talk to us. We will open these events up to non-members for a fee (members of the group can attend free of charge), which helps to boost attendance and subside any fee we might have to pay. A lot of people are happy to come and talk to us for no more than travel costs and a couple of drinks, and they are popular events.

We have a yahoo forum which all members are part of. It helps people keep in touch between meetings, and everyone feels like they are in the loop.

We officially have about 30 members, but normally only about 12 at any one meeting. Turning up for every meeting is not obligatory, but email communication is essential. If you can't make a meeting, you should be prepared to send your critique back to the author by email.

Keeping a writing group going, as with any social group, does rely very heavily on two or three people prepared to do all the work - fact of life. In our case one of them is me - I've been Chair of the group since it was founded in 1994!!

Good luck and hope this helps!


09-01-2011, 10:03 PM
To my utter astonishment I even sold one of the first stories I sent out, to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. I'm having fun writing, and I seem to be having some success.

First off, congratulations! That's a great pub credit. I will look for your story.

I'm a member of an open group, open to nearly anyone who writes anything. It's been around for over 15 years, with some of the original members still taking part. This group has been extremely helpful in some ways - helping me to be more social is a main one - but only a few people provide good critiques. Others generally write no notes or "nice story!" kind of notes. It meets weekly, and outside of it some people have become quite good friends. So it's social and critique.

If I had the time, I'd try to find a more specialized group too, for just novels or novels and short stories.

Meetup.com is quite popular in my area but as someone else said, it's not always successful at keeping groups going. Plus you have to pay to be the group organizer. My spouse runs a chess group there.

Actually, there have been some writing groups on meetup.com that I've looked at, but haven't joined for some reason or another. Not a good time, not a good day ... just didn't sound like a good fit ... and some of the groups have disbanded after a year or two of appearance.