I've been a member of feedback group Writers Connect for a few years now. Prior to that, I've visited a number of other, less successful, creative writing groups that have operated in different ways. The methods people use in their groups may vary, and the way writers interact can affect the dynamics of the meeting. It can also affect the outcome of the finished pieces of writing. I'm no expert, but I was wondering: what can we do to make sure a group is as productive as possible? Drawing on experience, here's my ten most-helpful pointers that could assist you or your writers group.
- Pick a venue with a reasonable noise level. You'll be reading out work to a good number of people, so not a library. But also, avoid bars with blaring music, high walls or too much background chatter. Perhaps a coffee shop?
- Your venue should have tables that can accommodate you all; where you can sit around as a group and still hear each other.
- Start the meeting with a warm-up writing exercise. Have a look through this blog for examples. Before you set the timer, suggest everyone writes double-spaced so each person can fill in ideas as they go along, or cross out and replace words. After the timer has gone, let the group members read out their pieces.
- Whether reading out the results of the exercise, or a piece they have brought in for critique, remind readers to project their voice. Each reader should speaking loud enough for the person in the group sat furthest away from them to comfortably hear them.
- Relax when reading. Reading out your work to a group of unknowns can be uncomfortable the first few times, but remember that everyone at the group has been there- some may still be. I find it helps to go into the world of the story- forget you're sat at the table at the venue in town, surrounded by readers. Be with your characters.
- Our group organiser allows us to email our stories to her if we have printer problems. That way she can print them and bring them to the meet-up for us. If you're a kind organiser, suggest this to the group (but only bring it up when someone says they have had printer problems).
- If you use a website like Facebook or Meet-ups to organise the group, it's up to each person to update their activities on the site. If you plan to attend the meeting, let the group know- then turn up. If you realise you can't make it, update people. In our group, we find that a lot of people confirm their attendance online but fail to show on the day. It's fair enough that problems arise and that you might not be able to attend, but in an era with mobile internet, it shouldn't be too hard to correct your plans online.
- You might find the opening moments of the meeting are a good time to share any writing-related information people might have- any publications people have achieved, any resources found like feedback websites or good advice books, or any events that might be running like fiction or poetry nights in the area. Or, to save time at the meeting, you might want to encourage members to post these findings on the website.
- Turn up on time. If you're late, you might have less time to perform the exercise, and if you miss that totally, you may miss the beginning of the first story. How effective could your feedback be if you don't know as much as everyone else?
- Get a good night's sleep before the meeting. Our meet-ups are on Sunday afternoons. There has been a few times where I'd been out the night before, woken up in time for the meeting and thought, “well, I'm awake. I might as well go.” I've then been drifting off in the middle of the meeting and people have had to turn over the pages of the printed stories for me. Embarrassing.
Some of these pointers may seem obvious, but mistakes do happen on occasion. Get on top of these ten and you'll have an effective, enjoyable and powerful writing group. Can you suggest other ideas?