A well-known African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The same is true for writing.
Six months ago, I had an idea to start a writers' group, a cohort of people banded together by their passion for writing. Three months later, I launched the web presence of the group, The Write Practice.
Since then, I've learned a little more every day about what it takes to start a successful writers' group. It's not easy, but it's worth the effort.
The only good reason you should start a writing group is if you don't already have access to a one. It's far easier to join a group than it is to start one.
However, for the brave and stubborn, here are six pieces of advice about how to launch your very own writers' group.
1. Help people
People join writing groups to get help, so if don't want to help other writers, don't start a group.
How can you help your fellow writers?
The possibilities are endless, but the non-negotiable is that you must help people.
2. Have a physical and online presence
From the beginning, I wanted my writing group to be both online and off-line.
The Internet is an amazing way to connect people to each other. Blogging especially is a great way to meet people. However, it's difficult to build deep and meaningful relationships in a writing group if you only meet online.
As the leader, it's your job to find ways to connect those people in real life. You may find yourself throwing parties, starting book clubs, or even going to writing workshops and conferences.
3. Throw parties
Chuck Palahniuk said, “Use writing as your excuse to throw a party each week — even if you call that party a ‘workshop.'”
I love the idea of a group of people coming together to celebrate their passion.
Once a month, my wife and I host a “writing feast.” We make a bunch of food, invite a bunch of our writer friends over to the house, and have a big party.
We might talk a little about our writing or the books that inspire us, but mostly, we celebrate the gift of writing.
4. Be consistent
Writers, like all creatives, can be terribly inconsistent.
We like to write when we want to write, to get together when we want to. However, to build a group you have to show up consistently.
If you're going to meet in person, meet at the same time every week. If you're going to create an online community, contribute every day or at regular intervals.
Writing groups take a long time to build, and if you don't show up consistently, no one else will.
5. When critiquing, focus on the bright spots
One of the main reasons people join writing groups is to get feedback about their work. However, there is a helpful way and an unhelpful way to do this.
The human mind naturally focuses on flaws. It's in our wiring.
When you critique someone's writing, try to intentionally look for way to praise the person's work (even if you didn't really like all of it). For example, say, “I loved what you did here. You should do that more often.”
It's more helpful when someone tells you to do something more than when they tell you what you're doing is wrong.
6. Beware “Entrepreneur's Depression”
As you are preparing to start your writers' group, you might dream of dozens of writers showing up to your first meeting. You may fantasize droves of hungry writers saying, “We've been waiting for someone to start this for years. Thank you so much! Lead us, oh fearless sage.”
But it doesn't happen like that.
The first time I threw a writing feast, two people showed up. After three months of preparation, my website had received less than 100 visits in the first week.
When you don't get the response you expect, the you may feel betrayed. This is normal. But whatever you do, don't give up. Fight through the disappointment.
If your dream for a writing group is going to become a reality, you will have to keep showing up. You'll have to persevere.
No one is going to start it if you don't.
Would you want to be a part of a writers' group? What would you look for as part of your perfect cohort? Share in the comments.
*Photo credit: Horia Varlan (Creative Commons)