Writer’s groups are a great way to get feedback about your work and learn how to improve your writing. They also provide you with the inspiration and motivation you likely need to keep writing and stay on track. Plus, they’re a great way to meet other writers and to form long-lasting friendships.
However, as with any group, writer’s groups can easily lose focus and turn into unproductive social hours where you’re just chatting about the latest books you read or movies you saw. Even if you manage to stay on topic about writing, these groups can devolve into personal attacks and hurt feelings.
Here are a few ways you can keep your writer’s group on track to get the most out of it:

Create a Schedule

Don’t wing it. Don’t allow members to show up whenever they like, and don’t just talk about whatever work is brought in for sharing that night. You’re liable to have sporadic submissions or to always be reviewing the work of the same few members.
Set a schedule for who will submit work for each meeting. This way, you know whose work you will be reading each time and you know that everyone will have a fair opportunity to get feedback from the group.

Also, be sure to set a regular meeting schedule. If you meet regularly, you’ll be more motivated to write regularly. Meet once a week, once every two weeks, or once a month, depending on what works best for the schedule of all members.

Set Rules

Without rules, your writer’s group is likely to become a free-for-all, with members leading the discussion in a number of different directions. Before you begin, decide what your rules will be to keep the group orderly and productive.

Many writer’s groups I’ve attended have set rules prohibiting the author from talking or responding to feedback during a critique. This prevents a lot of unnecessary discussion about “Well, what I was trying to do was…” After all, the writer can’t be there in person with every reader! The writer gets a chance to respond to all feedback at the end of the session. Decide if these rules would work for the style of your group, or if other rules would serve you better.

Create Assignments

Many writer’s groups do well when they allow members to bring in whatever they are currently working on. However, others benefit from having writing prompts or assignments to help them stretch their creative limits or to get inspired.

Your assignments can be as specific or general as you like. You can choose open-ended assignments like “write a short story” or “write the first act of your screenplay.” Or you can choose more tailored prompts that define specific settings, characters, or genres. Have fun with it!

Encourage Everyone to Participate

You can ensure that everyone shares their work by creating your group schedule and sticking to it. However, you should encourage participation by all members during feedback, as well. When you notice that members aren’t participating, you could try a casual approach such as “What do you think about that, Mike?” or a more direct one such as “You haven’t said anything tonight, Mike. What’s your feedback?”
Make sure that you set expectations for the group at its inception, and let the members know that active participation will be required.

Supplement with Readings

Carefully selected readings can help your writer’s group to explore ideas about writing and to find inspiration to influence their writing. Many authors have written books about writing, including Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway, Anne Lamott, and many more. The advice and ideas in these books are sure to spark helpful discussion in your group and offer a few good tips for how to make your writing better.

Writer’s groups can be as casual or as formal as you would like them to be. While you want them to be loose enough to meet the needs of the individuals in the group, you also want them to be organized enough to be productive. Use some of these tips as a guideline for forming your next group so that you can find the motivation you need to write and get the feedback you need to improve your writing.

What other tips do you have for organizing a successful writer’s group? Share your ideas in the comments!

BIO: Lisa Shoreland is currently a resident blogger at GoCollege.com, where recently she’s been researching free school grants and pell grants. In her spare time, she enjoys creative writing and hogging her boyfriend’s PlayStation 3. To keep her sanity she enjoys practicing martial arts and bringing home abandoned animals.

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