Alright, writing coach, you have your writing group up and running — all the hard work is over, right? Wrong!
If you are wanting to grow a strong community of creative and inspiring writers and authors, there are a few things you will have to keep in mind.
And just like any smooth-running machine, a writing group requires maintenance. With that said, here are five tips on how to host and manage a powerful and effective writing group.
1) How to Demonstrate Proper Etiquette When it Comes to Delivering Constructive Criticism
Advise everyone in the group to start positively — with a compliment or praise, and then offer honest but objective, well-supportive, and practical advice — then conclude with another set of compliments.
This is what I call the positive sandwich of constructive criticism. We writers are meant to uplift and encourage one another, not bring each other down. Yes, positive critiquing is necessary for all of us to help perfect our craft, but it is important to understand that continually beating someone down does not help them, or add value to them.
With that said, it is important to continuously reinforce the message that value is not being offered, and service is not being delivered to anyone in the group when constructive criticism is being withheld; however, only focused, writing-centered (not writer-centered) commentary will help the writer grow.
2) Keep a Solid Agenda, But Remember Not to Get Stuck in a Rut — Agendas are Guides, Not Commandments Written on Stone
Believe it or not, you might find that within your writing group you will have several high-achievers who might be ready to email a writing sample a week ahead of time to give others a chance to read and positively critique their work before the next meeting.
These particular selections do not need to be read aloud before the group; you can actually go straight to discussion and save valuable time by inserting notes into the file the writer sent you before the actual meeting. This gets the discussion started before the group formally meets.
And for those that would rather wait for the actual meeting, you can pass around a cold copy to read aloud to the rest of the group; while those that started the discussion earlier via email can jot down new notes as the discussion develops.
With that said, you might also run into those that only want to read a short passage for a moment’s worth of specific advice, and ask only a few general questions; or you might find those that would rather pass on the discussion altogether for that week.
Whatever the case may be, you may not have time to go over every group member’s project at each meeting anyway. Nevertheless, do not let any one member get away with following the same routine every time.
I would suggest that in every meeting a writing session be scheduled. That means everybody comes to the meeting, writes for at least a half to an hour, then bring the group back together to take turns reading part (or all) of their written selection for five minutes each, giving one minute of feedback from each member.
Want to know how to manage powerful and effective meetings? Consider this remarkable new resource by Michael Hyatt, No-Fail Meetings.
3) Establish Expectations for Constructive Criticism, And Do Your Homework
When you read the writing of other group members, take notes and write down questions, or suggestions, as well as compliments. Be specific when you give a critique, whether that be praising a vivid description in particular, or recommending more character development with detailed advice.
Focus, however, not on telling others what to do, but on asking questions to help them decide what to do for themselves.
While writing this I’m reminded of a statement I heard during a recent training I took. The speaker talked about refraining from telling people what they “should” be doing — it is the same as “shoulding all over someone.”
Look, people are not looking to be fixed, but rather to be heard. Not, necessarily, to be taught something, but rather to be understood.
Now, with that said, if you do not understand something that is written, or you feel that details are lacking, ask for an explanation or background information in order to better understand where the writer’s thought process was at the time. Then, gently advise the author to incorporate their response into the narrative.
Doing your homework also involves setting your ego aside and acting on others’ critiques. What is the use of investing so much time and energy in this process if you do not take feedback to heart?
4) Take Breaks Seriously — Sometimes Stopping is Your BEST Start
At regular intervals step back from the main focus of critiquing and take a moment to meet just to advise or brainstorm about how to organize notes, do research, or work on character development, plot, tone, and so on.
Moreover, it is important to set time out of the year to perhaps go through a book reading together or watch a movie or a play together. And, for homework purposes, draft a “novelization” or a rewrite of a scene and bring it to the next meeting.
5) Check-In: Periodically Evaluate How The Writing Group is Developing and Growing
Ask yourself, are your meetings too often, not often enough, or just right? Are there certain members that are missing too many meetings, or perhaps wall-flowering, or does one person dominate the whole meeting? Is everybody getting what they want out of the experience, and is there value being delivered?
Moreover, ask yourself: What is the procedure when somebody isn’t fitting in? What do you do when one or more members drop out, or when one or more members feel like increasing the number of people in the group? How do you recruit, and how do you decide whether to accept candidates?
I would suggest probably monthly or quarterly re-evaluating and/or reviewing your membership policies. And, above all, remember that, although the group is a democratic body that should operate by consensus, you, as the founder, must continue to moderate the proceedings and nudge everyone to always honor its principles and purposes.
Now Over to You
Do you regularly participate in a writing group? Do you run your own writing group? What are some tips that you could give to add to this list?
I hope after reading this article you have a better idea of what it is like running and managing a writers group, and perhaps I was able to encourage and inspire you to start your own writing group.
I highly encourage you to share your thoughts with me in the comments section below. I would love to hear what tips and insights you might have in regards to this topic.
Looking to finally start earning what your writing is really worth? Allow me to be your Writing Coach, and let’s take this journey together.
William Ballard is one of the most sought-after business and leadership coaches in the world. As founder and CEO of William Ballard Enterprise, his core business development and leadership programs are designed to be a catalyst for entrepreneurs and leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their business, their lives, and the world. To learn more about how to get back to your first love as a writer again, subscribe to William’s free business insider newsletter.