Miss Write's Advice: Starting a Writing Group

Miss Write Illustration by One Fine Day Cartoons.
Category: Writing

Whatever the writing dilemma, our resident agony aunt is here to help!

Miss Write will be here every month with another answer to another problem, so if you have a burning writerly complaint, send it our way.


The Question

I’d like to start my own writing group, but I’m a bit nervous about the whole thing. Could you give me some advice? John.

The Answer

When they go well, writing groups can be an incredibly supportive and inspiring environment to be a part of. When they go badly, however, writers can be left sobbing in the corner, ripping a manuscript covered in red pen into tiny pieces (or maybe that’s just me).

But it is possible to start a successful writing group and avoid having a breakdown. Here are my five top bits of advice to get the most out of your meetings:

1.    Have a clear purpose for the group

It’s all well and good branding it as a general ‘writers group’, but you’ll probably struggle to achieve much if you can’t agree on an overall purpose. Are you there simply to be an emotional crutch for each other or would you rather receive detailed more feedback on your work? It’s also important to consider what type of writing you’re all doing. Do you want a mixture of styles and genres in the group, or would it be more helpful to work with people writing similar things to you?

2.    Set some ‘rules’

You don’t want it to feel like tutorial, but rules are an important to ensure that everyone involved gets as much out of the meetings as possible. You could try nominating a writer to read out his or her work for feedback each week, or get everyone to write a certain amount of words and report back on how it went. Just make sure you stay flexible to fit in with the dynamics of the group.

3.    Share your work

Sharing your work is always difficult, but you need to be sharing your work in some shape or form if you want to progress as a writer. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to stand up in front of everyone and read it aloud if the idea fills you with dread. Do what works for you. Actually, it’s probably more sensible to send out copies in advance so everyone has plenty of time to properly absorb your work and offer a more detailed opinion (this is especially true for large groups). Once you get over the initial terror, not only will your writing improve, but your confidence will rise too.

4.    Respond kindly and constructively

Once someone shares his or her work with you, be careful about how you respond. I’m stating the obvious here, but the common reflex of launching straight into what’s wrong with the writing is not only a bit rude, but it also won’t be very helpful. It’s important to highlight what isn’t working of course, but make sure you’re offering some positive feedback alongside constructive criticism.

5.    Meet regularly and remember to make it fun!

Everyone leads busy lives, so make sure you don’t let months fly past before you meet again. Make a group on Facebook or start an email chain to keep in touch with each other regularly and share work in between meet-ups.

And make it fun. You should have a break from your usual meetings every once in a while and simply spend time together- go to the cinema, grab a coffee and so on. This will not only help you all get to know each other better, but you’ll also be able to relax and take a break from the page. Once you return to your work you'll hopefully feel refreshed and ready to go.

Have you got a question for Miss Write? Add it as a comment at the bottom of this blog or ask away on our Facebook page or Twitter feed, using the hashtag #askmisswrite.

Find more advice from Miss Write here.

Miss Write

Miss Write is Scottish Book Trust's resident writing Agony Aunt. When she's not busy drinking tea, making to-do lists or alphabetising her book collection, she likes to get some writing done.