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Friday, September 27, 2013

What Should a Successful Writers Group Be?

English: Board Meeting.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
         Something has come up recently that has turned my attention back to the concept of in-person meet-up style writers groups.  I've been a member of one for going on two years now.  The local group that I joined has been around for fifty years so it's well established and has a history behind it.  Now the group has dwindled to a handful of mostly older members and is contemplating a gradual fade-away into non-existence.

         Our group is primarily a critique and support group that usually meets once a month excepting summer months and other times of the year when the meeting conflicts with other things.  It's an informal situation where we try to meet, but sometimes just decide not to.   We each pay membership dues of $11 per year. 

         Each meeting consists of a bit of social chat during which we talk about what we've been working on and if we've gotten anything published since the last meeting.  Then, works submitted by members are read to be critiqued by those who are present at the meeting.  Sometimes this is in the context of a contest where favorites are voted on and the winners receive small cash prizes.  That's essentially all we ever do.

         Since I've joined we've seen a few younger folks drop in to see what we are about.  They might return for another meeting or two, but then we don't see them again. Our group is obviously not creating enough of a draw to attract a significant number of new potential members and enough appeal to hang on to the ones who are curious enough to see what we are doing.

        We obviously need to do something different if we want to keep the group alive.  In this post I'm turning to you readers for advice.  If you are a part of an active group (not necessarily a writers group), what does your group do?   What would appeal to you if you were looking for a group?

Here are some thoughts:

What do you want from a writers group?

  • Speakers --other writers, people with interesting stories or occupations, agents, teachers, etc.
  • Workshops--Paid?  Free?   Taught by someone within the group?  Let by a professional in some particular field?  What kind of topics?
  • Support--Guidance and networking to get your work published.
  • Meals--Should a meeting be held at a restaurant and include a meal?
  • Refreshments--If held in a suitable location should light refreshments and beverages be available?
  • Critique sessions--Several entries discussed or more focus on just a few each meeting?
  • Social activities--Directed discussions on selected books or movies, debates, outings or excursions, or other group events?
  • Contests--Submitted writing for special writing contests such as poetry, memoir, fiction, etc with cash or other prizes?
  • Strong leadership--Active membership drives and outreaches
  • Online presence--Should a group have an active blog or website?   What should that site include to be of most benefit to members while acting as a promotional tool to gain new members?
  • Meeting time--Is a weeknight better or is a weekend day preferred.  More than once per month?
  • Location--What type of meeting place is best?  How far are you willing to go to attend a writers meeting?
  • Dues--How much is too much?   What should you get from your dues?
  • Club publications--Would you be interested in yearly or occasional group anthologies that would include contributions from each member?  Would you be drawn to a club that guaranteed that you the participating writer would be seeing your work in print?    
      I'm looking for feedback from you no matter what experience you've had with this sort of thing.  Any idea is worth considering so please don't hold back.  Please let me know in the comments section your thoughts on the questions and ideas I've outlined above.  Or add your own ideas if you think of something else.   I'd like to be part of a vital group that adds something to my writing life. 

       A big thank you to all!

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  1. I've never belonged to a group, but several of those things you mentioned sound good. Would skip meals, but refreshments would be good. Online presence would be a big bonus for me. Weekday meetings better.
    Probably the reason it's dwindling is one you already stated - older members. If there's a huge age gap, the younger ones won't hang around. Just kind of human nature.

  2. I was shy about joining a group because I found 'in the past' that you get certain type of people in a group that can overpower the rest i.e. The ones who know it all. The one who talk instead of listening etc. Then I met Elizabeth Lord a published author she invited me to join her small writing group she run from her house. There were just four of us and taking time to read out our work, putting forward our points of view and helping each other. Now two more have join, one who knows it all and always dominates the rest of the group. Sometimes you just can't escape them. It's just very off putting for some people who are nervous about baring their souls.
    I hope this is of some help.

  3. Guest speakers add a lot to a meeting. I was just a guest speaker for a group out of Morehead City.

    Once a month is good. I was with a group that met every week and it was too much.

  4. Once a month. Week night. Light refreshments. Workshops- member run or guest brought in. Keep fees reasonable. Tough one about the younger ones, I agree with Alex on that, they were probably intimidated.

  5. I have never been in a writer's group but I have belonged to others, even been the President of one. Strong leadership is important and not by just one person, you need to spread it around. I wouldn't have it at a restaurant or meals, you lose the focus when food gets involved,leave that to a totally social activity to raise money or just have fun. Refreshments, such as punch and cookies (or healthy stuff) is enough. Informative speakers are great, once in a while. Since it is a learning group, critiquing is crucial. I know that sounds silly but If it turns into a cheerleading group, people don't get anything from it and will leave.
    Making sure cliques don't stop new members from feeling welcomed should be a top priority. Cliques also have a way of stopping new members from participating.
    I have tried to join some groups lately in Sedona (an older community) and I have found the older people not very welcoming and the cliques are in place. I just sit there and if I try to speak they stare and then turn to each other and speak. I am at least 20 to 25 years younger than most and I don't know if they feel threatened by my youth or they don't hear everything I say so they don't respond? Honestly, I am just not sure? But in the group somebody should be in charge of being welcoming and making sure newcomers feel wanted. In addition, the group leaders should make an effort to keep cliques under control,that kills groups,fast.
    With newcomers you must make contact, find out why they are coming and to the extra mile with them. It is very important to approach someone new and make them feel wanted. Remember they don't know anyone yet and most likely are a little nervous,especially if it is a critiquing group.
    Sometimes we forget how easily we form cliques or good friends and we get caught up in talking and socializing and we ignore the new people.
    As far as online, that could go either way. With the younger generation it is their main way of communication, so it is a must for contact. Making sure you send emails, and text messages about meetings and events, set up a Facebook page that also supplies that information. You could blog right on the Facebook page, many people do that now because it needs to be short,not long blogs.
    Good Luck :)

  6. I belong to two writers groups. I do get to enjoy some face to face time. I like having a place where I can ask questions and someone will know the answer. I would have never passed the dreaming stage of being a writer if I hadn't joined the local chapter of RWA.

  7. Alex -- Young people can learn so much from their elders but often don't want to deal with it.

    Paula -- This is a problem with most any social situation. It's good if there is a mediating sort of personality who can bring balance to the group. You do make an important group.

    L.Diane -- I enjoy hearing what some guest speakers have to say and the right ones can be a real draw to a meeting. However if the speaker is one who must be paid then that means the group needs to find some way to pay that bill whether it be higher dues, meeting fees, or some other method.

    Wendy -- Relevant workshops might help draw younger writers who want to learn more. It would be best to draw several younger people at the same time so they feel more in the element of their own peer group with a balance of older members.

    Lucy -- Thank you for this outstanding feedback. You make very important points. Directed leadership that is not overbearing and controlling does help keep a group moving forward. If potential future members are not made to feel like they will be assimilated into the group there is little reason for them to stay. A group must be an attractive environment for people to want to stick with it.

    Susan GK -- Your situation sounds like the one where we'd like to be.


  8. I have never belonged to any writing group. A weeknight would be ideal as people have plans for the weekend. Once a month is good, it gives everyone a chance to write something. Light refreshments are better than full fledged lunches or dinners.

  9. The biggest issue I have experienced with writers' groups is incompatible goals. The first one I was a member of, although the person that started the group had goals similar to mine, nearly everyone else that joined were women looking at writing true life stories for magazine articles and things like that. You just don't fit in when you're trying to talk novels and everyone else is talking magazines.
    The other group I've visited a couple of times, although it's fairly large, it's composed of a mostly older crowd almost exclusively interested in writing memoirs. I'm just not interested in two hours a month (or more) of people talking about their memoirs.

    So, aside from leadership, I think a common purpose is the real key. Or, at least, a very diverse purpose, so that everyone can feel like they can be heard.

    By the way: the group that was mostly women interested in doing magazine stuff didn't make it. The founder dropped out because she wasn't interested in what everyone else was talking about and they limped on for a while but, in the end, couldn't come up with a leader.

    The other group is the largest writing group in CA, so they're doing well, but they have very, very few members under the age of 50, and they almost only talk memoirs.

  10. Great idea to ask for input. This is also happening to a well-known provincial writers group in BC who have attempted to address the problem of the group dwindling to the 'Old Guard'. I belonged for two years but didn't stick around. They pushed their courses, their books, and the need for volunteers.

    After that -
    I joined the CWC, a national writing group, who attend to their members better. At the CWC I was able to get mentoring at no cost from a published author as an associate member, the other writing group wanted to charge for the mentoring (otherwise, it had no 'perceived' value they said)

    The difference: The CWC GIVES BACK to the new and un-established members. That's the key, Lee.

    The focus of a writing group should be a combo of promoting and development of members, and not just a growing of numbers. Or a group can be only a 'critique group'. Critiquing consumes a lot of meeting time.

    I wouldn't think critiques should be part of a meeting, but rather a workshop where critiques are the focus.

    Having an online meeting spot is a good idea, when members can't meet face to face. Sorry for the long comment. I'm off the soapbox now.

  11. I have to admit I've had a hard time consistently showing up for my crit group. I joined through a guild so there is a measure of stability, but lately the types of writers is sort of difficult. Currently there are more screenwriters and chldren and middle grade writers than anything which makes it hard to give each other feedback. I actually don't know what a screenplay is supposed to look like... I guess, I'd like genre specific crit groups or at the very least writers whose audience is similar in age?
    Edge of Your Seat Romance

  12. I've been a part of several writers groups, some that I moderated.

    I think meeting regularly, even in the summer, is key. Not a fan of the contest idea - it could make writers feel more competitive than cooperative.

    Food/drink eats up time - I would have that be special occasion only. Weeknights, yes, though I used to host one on late Sunday afternoons that was wildly popular for a while.

    I think you need to decide what you WANT, in terms of membership. Do you want a large group, or a small, intimate group with a lot of consistency? Big groups are a LOT of work. I used to be very involved with this one: which is around 100 members, but decided to step back and have a tighter focus.

  13. I've been in several writer's groups over the years. When I was new to writing, I was just glad to be around other writers, all of us trying to learn from each other. Any feedback was helpful. I then joined a more advanced group with an established author as leader (paying her a fee). I learned a ton from this group over the 1.5 years I was there, largely because of the expertise from the author and fellow group member's experiences as writers and published authors. I got my first publication in a magazine through the mentorship of this group. I'm currently not in a critique group, mostly due to time limitations, but also because I find I just need to write, write, write. I will probably go to a professional editor for feedback. I do, however, belong to a writer's support group. We don't critique each other's work but talk about writing, publishing, life balance and support each other's writing goals. Works for me in my life and given my writing goals right now.

  14. Hi, Arlee,
    I used to go to a once weekly workshop, but it was that exactly, with a facilitator and students. It was good to have someone who'd been writing for a while as a guiding force.

    Haven't tried the face to face gathering because I don't know many local writers. I think that it would be good to have persons who are strong in various ares taking turns to share with the group. Having speakers would also be good.

  15. I'm with Alex, refreshments are good. They grease the mechanism. People tend to gravitate toward fresh donuts and piping hot coffee. :)

  16. I think that I'd love to join the writer's group, I've seen the impact that writer's group provide when it comes to encouragement online through various online writers group and I could imagine in person being even better, it'd be worth checking out, I wish some were local to me.

  17. Rachna --I think a meal is a bit much, but I have seen a number of groups that do this. Particularly civic minded groups that are not geared toward writers.

    Andrew -- You make an excellent point. This is something that some of our membership has mentioned as well. I might like a memoir group since I'm interested in that topic, but general writing groups should not be too limited in focus.

    DG -- Your long comment is exactly the kind I'm looking for. Outstanding feedback! You bring up an important point: Most people join a group like this for the purpose of getting back something that will help them. Writing can be a lonely endeavor and it's good to have others with knowledge to help as well as those who need help that we can provide. I agree with you about the critiquing time. This has been a weakness in our group I think, but also a strength. A focus has to be reached.

    Raquel --Good point. We can learn things we don't know about, but then again we might be using up valuable time that is needed to zero in on our own specific interests. You might get inspiration from others who are doing things you are not, but does it detract from what you are trying to achieve?


  18. Beverly -- Yeah, 100 members attending meetings would be a lot. We're probably thinking 12 to 20, but then again that can limit what we are capable of offering to members. Right now we get about 8 to 10 in attendance on the average, but it's often unpredictable and the regulars are becoming less regular. In the past I've tried to ask the question about what we as a group want--I think there are a number of different goals and interests and that presents a problem in planning our direction for the future.

    Jagoda -- We probably need to decide which of those types of groups we want to be. Right now I go once a month, but other than winning a couple of the contests I don't feel like the group is firing me up enough.

    JL -- I think the once weekly scenario would provide greater incentive to write and more opportunity to learn. I can see benefits, but I'm not sure that the members of our group would be willing to put in that much time.

    Suze -- I do think some high quality coffee would be nice. And I would not turn down a donut even though I should. I think some of the old school writing groups opted for alcohol. Don't think that would work for our group though. Then again...

    Yeamie -- I wish you lived here to attend ours. We could use your youthful insight and maybe you could learn a thing or two from our older members. Hope you find a good group. Is there something at your nearby colleges?


  19. I'll be honest: the few people I know who are in writer's groups don't seem to produce an awful lot of writing. Writing, I guess, is a solitary activity. I've never been interested in one, because I'm leery of anything that takes away from my writing time without giving a lot back.

    Workshops, as someone mentioned, might get me there.

  20. I think it all really depends on what visions you have for your group. When I started CBWLA 3 years ago, I had a clear picture of what kind of group I wanted it to be, what we would be doing, and how we would go about doing things. I learn along the way, too, picking up on what members want and their suggestions. 3 years ago we were a small meetup group with about 7 members. NOw we have 290 members on meetup and about 50 registered members on It's been a lot of work, but I definitely feel it's worth it.

  21. I like a lot of those ideas. My critique group will welcome me back but I thought it was kind of critical. LOL. My dream writer's group would be coffee house poetry readings. I'm also a member of a big group here with refreshments and wonderful speakers that meets once a month during the fall, winter and spring.

  22. I've never been to a writing group, and I live in a semi-rural Scottish area and don't have any near me. But I would like it to include writing exercises and challenges - that's the sort of thing I enjoy in bloghops - combined with a bit of critique. I would like to feel like I was learning something.

  23. I ised to belong to a poetry group, it was if your face suited all was well if not get out quick.


  24. Kelly -- I know what you're saying. I think some people like a group setting in hopes of getting motivated and receive support. I was hoping to network with writers and get new information. Our group doesn't take much of my time.

    Nutschell -- Your group was definitely an inspiration to me. You've really got things together as a leader and you've developed a strong leadership team to heip you. I've been using your group as a model of what can work to make a group successful.

    Desert - We actually have at least one poetry group in our area like you describe. I've gone once, but since poetry is not my focus of interest I don't attend these.

    Nick -- I agree. It's important to feel like I take away something that has made me a better writer or given me some new ideas that will help me later. The potential for this in actual social meet-ups can be very good if everyone is motivated to have the similar experience.

    Yvonne -- Yeah, that doesn't sound to good, but unfortunately some groups can be like that.


  25. I used to run a group at a local restaurant, we met on Saturday morning, early 7:00 AM. Had breakfast and went over the chapters we'd received a week earlier from each member via computer. It was fun talking about the critiques in person. Our membership was 5, perfect for quick meetings and great feedback. We ended when the restaurant closed, and I do miss it. Now I'm hoping to connect online with Denis Covey's group. I just hope I can keep up!
    Good luck, I think it all depends on the people!

  26. For members of any kind of group meeting, I think a regular monthly schedule is important. Only meeting when it's "convenient" or when "nothing else is going on" automatically relegates the meeting to a level of insignificance. If the organizers don't take the group's purpose seriously, why should any members? Especially potential ones.

    Light snacks might be okay, but too much concern about food and drink risks turning the meeting into little more than a social event. People who seek a writing group are essentially looking for other people with an interest in and knowledge about writing, in the hope that the group dynamic will serve to improve individual writing skills. Personally, I'd be happy to bring my own bottle of water and a pack of crackers so we could skip the dawdling over donuts and coffee, and get down to business. Alternatively, if the meeting time is set for two hours, there could be cake and coffee or whatever... afterwards.

    I think someone needs to take charge of your meetings, and there should be a set agenda. To increase your membership, you could post flyers in coffee shops, libraries, and book stores. If you want young people, post those flyers in local high schools or colleges. Set a specific date for an organizational (or re-organizational) meeting, and get input from the people who show up as to what THEY expect from future meetings.

    I could go on and on, but I've probably yammered more than enough.

  27. Yolanda -- Finding those right people can be the trick! Especially those who will turn out for early breakfast. Submittals by computer for pre-meeting review is a good idea and one that some in our group have been trying to encourage.

    Susan FS-- These are all excellent suggestions. I guess what you've said primarily comes down to how important the meetings are to members. Are we looking for just a chance to socially mingle or do we want to get down to business? A balance of both might be nice, but the group needs to be of singular mind as to want they want to do.


  28. Hi, Lee,

    I think a group could be very beneficial. I know if one would start where I live, I certainly would be interested.

    I think writers spend too much time behind their computers and need to get out and meet other writers. Look at the writers of the past, the would always get together and talk, learning from each other.

    OF course, now that we have the internet we can communicate with writer friends from all over the world, and it's AWESOME beyond belief... however, I do treasure my times when I meet my writer friends here in Chicago on occasion. There is nothing like communicating face to face.

    I also LOVE visiting other bloggers/friends when I travel. I will be seeing PK Hrezo very shortly in Florida. Always a magical moment in time....

  29. Monthly meetings might work and when it comes to the competitions keep the prizes writing related so that you attract writers not just people looking to win a prize.

  30. Michael -- I'm with you. The social interaction is a good thing for all of us. Meeting in person gives us something we could never get online, though I wouldn't want to give that up either. How cool that you will be meeting PK.

    Sheena-Kay-- We haven't really advertised the competitions, but doing so might attract more interested parties. Unless the prizes were really sizeable I don't think we'd have to worry too much about people just coming to win something. I haven't minded winning the small cash prizes that I've won.


  31. I've been involved in two in-person groups. The first was more of a writing class where we each worked on our manuscript and shared chapters ahead of time. This probably would have been more beneficial if any of us had any clue what we were doing!

    More recently I was in a group lead by a published writer. She gave very loose writing prompts and we each read our piece for critique at the next meeting.

    Honestly, both were more of a way of meeting other writers and being encouraged to keep going. The best critique group I've been involved with is the Internet Writing Workshop which has groups for various genres - fiction, nonfiction, novels, poetry, etc. It attracts a mix of novice and experienced writers and I've grown tremendously from being part of the group.

  32. I haven't been part of a group like this (I keep to the internet instead), but I hope you find answers that'll help you keep your group alive. :-)

  33. Cindy -- I can see some advantages to a class type setting or a critique group working with common projects. Timing is the big advantage with online scenarios. Members can work at their convenience. Thanks!

    Misha -- Right now I'm not too optimistic about our current group unless some charismatic person with strong leadership can motivate a group into continuing. I'm not interested in being that person and I'm not sure if anyone else is either.


  34. I think you need to locate the strengths of meeting in person over online. Group critiquing around a table can often seem very dry and like school or a seminar.

    Meeting in person has its strengths when you can sit casually with just one or two people on the couch or a comfy chair and concentrate on your work or just chat.

    I would first build relationships online. Even start critiquing texts so people know each other. Then arrange the in-person meeting. That way you can use the strengths of both online and offline meetings.

    You then don't need that strong leadership in the same way because you have small groups of people who have already connected with each other and know why they are there.


  35. Marcus-- Good to hear from you!

    There are good things to be said for either method of socializing. Some people want that in-person contact and relationship building. And sometimes it's a very good thing to get away from the computer and build people skills.

    Online interactions allow for a more in depth critique potential. It's more convenient too.

    A combination of the two probably is the ideal situation if everyone is technologically inclined and willing to sacrifice a few hours periodically to meet in person.


  36. I am now in a local book group and it's okay. I also belong to one on the internet which is fabulous. Look around and do some web searching. There will be something out there for you.


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