Starting a Writing Group

I recently started a writing group. A women’s writers’ group to be exact. The name of our group is Bics’n’Brunch because I had visions of doing lots of lovely writing, and then celebrating with lots of lovely brunch (and rivers of booze…) but so far, all we’ve managed is lots of lovely writing, lunch and coffee and I’m okay with that. For now.

So we had our third meeting yesterday and we have a nice mix of members. And we’re all We have a member who has produced a short film and won a competition to have it screened. We have a member who has written the bones of a memoir. We have a member who has written a collection of short stories and is starting the path to self-publication (here’s her website: https://elizabethscullen.wixsite.com/author-liz-cullen ). We have a member who writes a self-development blog. We have a member who is a former journalist. We have a number of members who are just starting out with creative writing of all genres, and I’m excited about the future of our little group, and the future of our writing and the friendships we will make. And I’ve learned so much and I want to share it with anyone who thinks they want to set up a writers’ group. So here are some tips:

Identify the reasons why you want to set the group up and who you want to include:

There are lots of reasons why you might want to set up a writing group. If you’re in a town without one that’s a really, really good reason to set one up. But aeven if there are plenty of groups to choose from in your hometown, those groups might not be what you’re looking for. This was the case with me. Despite the fact that there were plenty of options in Dublin I ended up leaving all of them eventually for the following reasons:

  • They were too big which resulted in the sessions being dominated by reading aloud rather than working on our writing or discussing our writing.
  • The groups felt fully established and the members were all very close friends.
  • Certain personalities had become dominant within the groups and ended up monopolising talking time.
  • They were mainly attended by white men of retirement age. That isn’t a problem in itself, but I found the writing didn’t have much diversity.
  • The writing, for them, was more of a hobby than a serious endeavour.

The groups weren’t what I was looking for. I wanted to be amongst people that took the writing seriously because I felt lonely doing what I was doing. II needed beta-readers who would be brutally honest with me. I also wanted to hear some female writers’ voices, at least for a while. So I decided to set up the kind of writers’ group that I wanted to go to. A group of women of different ages,  interests and backgrounds. Women who write all kinds of things. Women who write for different reasons. Women who take the group seriously. So before launching into starting your group, decide why you want to establish a writing group and who you want to join. These are the questions you should ask yourself:

  • What kinds of writers do you want to invite? Do you want mainly fiction/non-fiction? Bloggers? Poets? Motivational writers? I kept my group mixed because I think we can all learn from one another and it adds a richness to the group, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t narrow your requirements down and be as specific as you want.
  • Do you want to restrict membership to a certain demographic?
  • How often does it suit you to meet up? This is your group, so you decide what suits you best. I think anything less than once a month is too big a gap between meetings

How to find members, and how many is enough?

Establishing the group was quite easy for me in Ireland. There’s an App called GirlCrew, for women who want to socialise with other women and form friendships. I went on there and posted an event. I originally got twenty-two responses, but the weather on the day of our inaugural meeting was horrific: terrible, torrential rain and apocalyptic wind. Four people showed up, so that made five including myself. I thought ‘what a disaster’ but actually, it gave me a good idea of who was serious about the group and in fact, five is a reasonably good number to start off with. It’s easy to manage and not too intimidating, plus you will actually get to know one another. Having had a few meetings now, I’d say a group of eight is optimum. Other ways to find members are:

  • To use socialising apps and websites like GirlCrew, Meetup.com etc.
  • Post on Twitter and Facebook. Invite people to share your post and use hashtags to gain traction.
  • Make your local university/ college, arts/cultural centre, library and bookshop aware of your existence and leave posters for them to put up on their notice boards.
  • Look at writerly websites for your area. Some writers’ websites have sections that list writers’ groups (The Irish Writers’ Centre and writing.ie has one, for example).
  • Attend literary festivals or writers’ retreats and get talking to people.

Find a venue:

The most important qualities that a venue must have are: that it is available on a regular basis, that you can relax, that it is reasonably quiet so that you can concentrate/read aloud without interruption, that it is cheap/free of charge. Your options are:

  • Writers’/ Arts/ Cultural centres
  • Members’ homes (on a rotational basis)
  • Library meeting rooms
  • Cafes/pubs during quiet times (ask permission in advance, and offer to purchase beverages/ food)

I found that almost everywhere other than the libraries charged in some way or another. So I approached the newly refurbished Kevin Street Library as our place. And lads, this place is just beautiful. An old building given a modern revamp with lots of light and airy spaces, comfy seats and books glorious books! They set us up every month with tables and chairs in a lovely space with books lining the walls. Many libraries are only too happy to host writers’ groups. So give your local library a call first. See if they (a) have a meeting room suitable and (b) how regularly it may be available to you.

Decide What You Want to Do:

There are loads of activities that writers’ groups can engage in during their meet-ups, and outside of them. Here’s a list:

  • Writing! Obviously. But what do you want to write? Decide whether you want to do a mix of free writing, working off prompts (see my article on prompts here) or working on existing projects.
  • Reading aloud from your work. Stuff you’re working on within the group or finished or almost finished work from outside of it. My group is still a little shy, and so I’ve asked them to read from other people’s work, works that they enjoy and find inspirational.
  • Updating the group on how you are progressing with projects and what your plans are before the next meeting.
  • Informing the group about competitions that are coming up or literary events that might be of interest.
  • Sharing writing prompts.
  • Discussing problems and brainstorm.
  • Creating accountability: share goals and strategies for achieving them, and discuss progress at each meeting.
  • Sharing writing tips.
  • Offering feedback and beta-reading for group members.
  • Suggesting good books on writing/for pleasure.
  • Attending book-launches, open-mics, literary festivals, plays, movies that are book-related as a group.
  • Creating your own writing retreats and go together.
  • Publishing a book of short stories, essays and poetry as a group. One of my former groups did this and I thought it was an amazing idea.
  • Making friends. Writing is a solitary thing and it’s good to have friends who understand what that’s like. 

Pick a Chair and Communicate:

Every group needs a Chairperson to put a structure on the meeting. Most groups rotate chairs, and I recommend this. It’ll make the group democratic and make everyone feel invested in the group.

Chairing involves:

  • Preparing an agenda which may include: updates on member progress on projects, selecting a ‘writing tip of the month’, supplying prompts, making members aware of upcoming competitions, events etc.
  • Allocating and managing time for discussion, free-writing, writing and reading aloud.
  • Arranging a date for the next meeting. Notifying any absent members and the venue of the date and time of the next meeting.
  • Organising tea/coffee, cakes, lunch where necessary.

Also, pick a method of communication between group members so that you can share work, share tips, suggest meet-ups etc. I use WhatsApp but other groups use Facebook Groups or communicate via email.

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CatherineEDay

My name is Catherine Day. After practising law for many years, I've decided to take the leap, leave law temporarily, and write the novel I've always wanted to write.

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