The Globe and Mail’s Book section features an essay by three Vancouver-based writers who formed a writing group called SPIN and have supported each other through the publication of their first novels. They met five years before at a writing workshop and have continued to meet once a month. The group has grown beyond just critiquing each other’s work: now they help plan book launches, swap income tax tips and figure out how to apply for grants.
It is really nice to see a writing group that has maintained a supportive atmosphere for its writers. I have belonged to two writer’s groups in the past that both lasted about two years, but fell apart in rather nasty ways. Over time the critiques of each other’s work become more and more personal and then very nasty. Despite this, I would love to join another writer’s group. However, from my experience, there are a few things a writer’s group needs to have to be successful.
- A set schedule – once a month works best. I once belonged to a group that tried to meet every two weeks, but that was just too often for people that had full-time jobs. Not everyone was able to produce writing for the group, or even attend.
- Page limit – The group needs to decide how much of each other’s work they will be able to read and critique for each meeting. I think 10-20 pages is quite reasonable. It isn’t fair to expect your fellow group members to take the time to reach 80-100 – it is just too much!
- Rules of engagement – How work will be critiqued needs to be defined. The writers should let the group know how they would like to be critiqued (does the plot work, are the characters believable, etc) and the group need to stick to this. Without structure, it is very easy for critiques to become personal and hurtful.
- Similar writing styles/genres – Let’s face it, you can provide the most constructive criticism about something you are knowledgeable about. It’s isn’t fair to expect someone who is writing a novel to provide a useful critique of a screenplay.
- Schedule – Is everyone going to share work at each meeting or will the group members rotate? Decide at the beginning to ensure everyone gets their fair share of air time.
- Neutral setting – personally, I think it is best to meet in a place like a library or a coffee shop instead of at someone’s home. This allows the members to focus on the writing, instead of playing host or hostess. Many larger libraries have group rooms or meeting spaces that can be used for free (or for a small fee). Personally, I love the ambiance of a good coffee shop to stimulate discussion.
These are a few of the things I think a writing group needs. What do you want in a good writing group?