How to Start a Successful Writing Group

Fresh from a weekend away with my fabulous writing group, I have come back re-energized and ready to write/share/blog/create. One of the big goals for my group is to start a mutual public blog. We have a private one, but are eager to share tips and tools, as well as learn from other writers on the endless search for the perfect sentence.

Here are my thoughts on how to start a successful writing group, an “article” that may soon appear in another format down the road.

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The Split Nibs, a writing group of four gals in Southwest Missouri, was a serendipitous formation. Over the course of the 2013 holiday season, we all attended various parties with mutual friends, having not known each other much, if at all. Small talk led to large talk, where we all realized we had ambitious creative projects in the works, but was each lacking a certain motivation to tackle them with full force. What we needed, we found, was a cheerleader. A safe place to share our innermost workings of the brain. And of course, wine and chocolate. And bread and cheese.

We consist of four writers:

  • Susan, a librarian who reads and writes…a lot…and is writing smart witty things that readers love
  • Sarah, a copywriter for the food industry, a writer for a televised comedy hour, and a viral Internet sensation
  • Ingrid, also a librarian, whose cutting and brilliant life observations show up in her short fiction and alter egos
  • Nicole, a painter and writer who dreams big while writing for small people

Our first meeting was like a first date. We met at an assigned place and time, bringing with us fresh notebooks, new pens, and the fears that most artists torment themselves over: what if they are smarter than me, better than me, more accomplished than me? What if they hate what I write? Laugh at it? Think I’m a fool for trying? What if there’s no chemistry?

Thankfully, we found we are kindred spirits, and can truly be ourselves, open to give AND receive feedback, in all forms. I would like to think it’s because of the following items, which have helped make us a great team, and an even better writing group:

  1. A place to meet that is private enough and without major distractions. We choose to meet either at each other’s homes, or our favorite downtown lounge where wine flows at a half-price rate and our regular server lets us steal the big corner table without complaint.
  2. That each member of the group be focusing on a different goal. The common goal, obviously, is writing. But what really helps us be our best version is that we aren’t competing for genres. For example, Susan is writing literary fiction with a romcom slant, while Sarah is working on screenplays and late-night comedy packages.
  3. An agenda, but not a rigid itinerary. Our meetings tend to follow a familiar format: round-table check in, whether it’s writing related or not; talk about the pre-determined item of focus (for example, does Susan’s main character sleep with a co-worker in her current book, or helping edit an agent query letter); a quick prompt, and a homework assignment. Which leads to the following:
  4. Group prompts & homework. Each month, we set a prompt for everyone to finish. There are websites and books out the wazzoo that focus specifically on these, or come up with your own. These can be done during a writing group meeting, or as homework. Also, based on what your personal goal is, other group members should help give you assignments to make that goal a checked item on your life’s to-do list.
  5. RETREAT! Try to get away for personal and professional development with your group. Think of it as a weekend-long writing meeting. Bring good food, a signature cocktail, a set of goals and a stack of books. Focus focus focus, write write write, eat eat eat, drink drink drink, and repeat.
  6. Be honest, but not mean, open-minded, and willing to let go. You decided to start a group or join a group for feedback and critique, so listen to what they have to say, whether you agree or not. The goal of a writing group is to help motivate, cheer, and workshop your way to a finished piece you are happy with. Wouldn’t you rather have honest feedback and cheers, than empty ones? If you meet criticism with a sour tone, your group members will be less likely to be honest with you. Suck it up, consider their thoughts, and see what happens next.
  7. Have fun, but set firm goals and pacing, otherwise, it’ll be just another social hour to add to your already busy schedule. The Split Nibs have all become a tight group and we decide when we want to focus on writing, or if we need a night to talk about life in general. It’s just as important for the creative process, but you still have to write if you want to call yourself a writing group!

The Split Nibs decided early on to keep the group small, because it helps keep us honest and open to sharing. Over the years, though, we have met so many writers of all stages who seek a similar dynamic. We are hoping that our site can serve as a virtual writing group, and to help other writers form groups on their owns, and to promote your best writerly life.

Thank you for reading, and good luck!

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