I’ve been asked a common question several times over the course of my group-hopping through NaNoWriMo, Script Frenzy, and a medley of writing local writer gatherings over the years, and I thought I should address it now.
How Do You Start a Writing Group?
Six years ago, my best friend and fellow writer Jessi and I began Inkwell Imaginings, a structured, workshop-based writing group in Southbridge, Massachusetts. I’m sure there are a dozen or so ways to get a writing group started, and there are as many ways to structure or focus your group to create exactly what you’re looking for from it.
Jessi and I settled down on my bed with notebooks and a vast array of multi-colored highlighters and pens, and started to map out what we wanted from the group.
- We wanted to invite writers of all skill levels. We’re both huge on encouraging other people to pursue their creative dreams, and we needed this to come through for Inkwell. It had to be clear that everyone was welcome, and diversity of level and genre would be embraced.
- We wanted to offer a variety of writing workshops to give our members the opportunity to grow. There are plenty of writing groups that don’t offer workshops, and they are typically something to build up to. Jessi has her bachelors in English and I’m pursuing mine in creative writing, so we thought we might give people the opportunity to benefit from what we were learning!
- We wanted to include critique days. This is what a lot of people are looking for when it comes to a writing group. Unfortunately, when it comes to budding novelists, they need help, as we all do, creating a polished piece of fiction. To allow everyone to have a turn, we had to limit our members to three pages per session. It helps to let them know that they’re free to talk outside of the group and exchange fiction via email or even in person. Networking is important!
- It’s okay to be social. Inkwell is no longer the workshop machine it used to be. Now, writers just get together in person, or online, and chat about their work, ask advice, and kvetch about their lives. It’s just as beneficial to have a tribe of writers to be social with as it is to treat your group as a class.
- Name your group! It can be hard, I know. It doesn’t have to be, though. You could just name it after your region or city. Give yourself a cool team name, like in sports or events. No holds barred! Just be sure it’s safe for public listing if you plan to advertise!
- What’s your focus? Is it genre specific? Social? Structured, like Inkwell? Lay down exactly what you want for your group. If you know what you want, you’ll be less likely to be wishy-washy when you start gathering members!
Bring it to life
- You need a venue. It can be as simple as a cafe or Panera Bread meeting room. We chose to approach the director of the local library, which happened to be two buildings away from my apartment. It’s not as hard as it sounds, though! Most library personnel are happy to talk with you about reading or writing, as long as you’re respectful.
We wrote a simple, but professional email and received a response the same day. She was very eager to have us come in for a chat about our writing group. We gathered all of our notes and submitted our proposal. It was approved by the next day, and we were on our way to Inkwell!
- Create a schedule. Once you have a venue, make sure you create a schedule. Every Friday from 6pm to 8pm, or every Saturday morning from 10am to 1pm, etc. Whatever you feel works for you. People will come, but be firm. Don’t switch it around to fit everyone. If they want to come, if they can come, they will. If not, maybe offer an occasional once-a-month meeting at a different time, but don’t deviate too hard! Consistency is key!
- Create flyers. Be simple about it. Make sure the name of the group is visible and legible, and you give the name of the venue, as well as an address. I recommend leaving your personal phone number and address off of the flyer! You never know who might be seeing this information! If you want to be contacted by potential members, which is always a good option, set up a free email address for the group with Google or Outlook, and add it to the flyer. These flyers can be left on bulletin boards at Starbucks and most local coffeehouses, Panera’s community board, and on many library boards as long as you obtain approval.
- Show up for your first meeting! Don’t expect a huge turn out at first. Members will come. Word of mouth will spread. Just be there, be consistent, even if you’re by yourself once in awhile. Use it to get your writing done. Maybe print out a little sign and put it on your table! It helps people to identify you and even encourages people to ask questions.
Running Inkwell was one of the highlights of my writing life, and I would reinstate it again in a heartbeat. Maybe I will when we settle in to somewhere more permanent!
Feel free to contact me with questions about Inkwell or starting your own group. We’d love to have more members online, but I encourage you to find or start your own group in your area!
Have a great day, and happy writing!