Starting your group
I usually start these out thinking, “Wow, Chaaya, you’re going to have trouble talking about this for 1.3k words. You’ll be lucky to see 500.” And then I have no problem whatsoever and end up doing an extra installment.
Anyway, today I’m going to talk about some things that are important when starting your own writers’ group, but first, I wanted to talk about what I heard in comments and notes about people being solitary and not really wanting to do writers’ groups. Wow. I have a bone fide medical reason for not doing groups. I also have a contract that lays out terms for when I can reveal my identity, so if I did a writers’ group, I’d have to only do things that couldn’t be linked to my novels.
You might reconsider. From what I’ve seen, a good group will do you more good than most of the $10k writer conferences.
Ok. I’ll start with the meeting place. The big thing right now is virtual meetings. These can be good, but people sitting in front of a camera behave a lot differently than people sitting in a group. Just ask Jeffrey Toobin. One of the potential good things that come out of a group can be the interaction with people. It’s better to meet outside, socially distanced and wearing masks, in my opinion anyway than it is to do a virtual meeting where the mute key is close by. That said, a virtual meeting is better than nothing.
Finding people can be challenging, especially locally. Colleges are a good place to find people as are local game stores and bookstores. You can often find places to leave a card advertising such things. This is good because you’re getting people that get out sometimes.
Another good place to find people is through local FB groups. Most places have meet and greet places on FB where neighbors can bring up local issues and trade information, announce yard sales, and pawn off non-working appliances with no warranty.
Having a set genre can be nice in some ways but being open to all genres can help as well. A Ship Called Hope trilogy has many elements of mainstream fiction in it and the same can be said about many great works. A lot of good books that aren’t categorized as romance, have romantic elements and someone with direct experience in the genre can be a boon. Make sure you agree in advance on what types of stories are allowed.
Along those lines, be sure to set the adult level of the stories. Some groups do allow stories to be completely erotic, while some groups want to keep it PG or maybe R. Setting this in advance can save a lot of embarrassment. You want everyone in the group to feel like they belong and weeding out material in advance is much better than having someone feel like they need to miss a meeting because of objectional material. Be wary of phrases like “necessary to the story” as that’s so open to interpretation as to cause future problems.
Be sure to create rules of conduct. I touched on this a little last week and the week before. It’s important that the group have a system approaching stories. One group I looked at was called BWA or Bad Writers Anonymous. Members we expected to appreciate that they had room for improvement and that the group (like an AA meeting) was to support people in their journey forward.
Rules should clearly state things like the order of people speaking, how to deal with the sudden need to interject your opinion now because by the time the person is finished what you have won’t make sense, how much time each speaker is given (30 seconds to unlimited), and what the reviewed author is allowed to say. What the exact rules are isn’t nearly as important as the fact they are clearly described and universally known.
I love kids, but they aren’t always a good idea at groups. If you have a group of moms meeting, it’s usually ok. They’re all used to things like that, but chances are not everyone is going to be ready for that.
Work with the other members to create a name. This helps develop some asprit de corps, and also keeps the group going. People are more likely to feel like they belong if they’re attending a group called “Unicorns Never Follow Instructions Tenaciously (UNFIT) than they are with “our writing group.” Sample group names I got from my publisher were: Bad Writer’s Anonymous, Near Letter Quality (us old people who had dot matrix printers will get it) and Xenobia (taken from a mispronunciation of Xenophobia).
Have a set time for your meetings. If you don’t have a story to review one time, you can either replace it with a discussion about a published book, or just make it a social get-together. These help people make sure the time is set aside and has the added benefit of causing slight discomfort, since everyone knows it’s not the purpose of the meeting. So they try harder to have material to review.
To prevent that problem from happening too often, set the time between meetings so that it accommodates people’s writing and personal schedule. While forming the group it doesn’t hurt to ask people how often they have stories. For the college groups I heard about, once a week was barely enough, but for most settled adult groups, once a month might be as close together as you can get the meetings.
Food. One of the groups I looked at had meetings that averaged about six hours. They usually took a break and went to a local restaurant where they continued to discuss the story. By prior agreement, those that could afford it helped cover those that couldn’t and that varied from week to week, because they were all college students. Consider the timeframe the meeting covers and set things up accordingly. This should be a shared responsibility and not be left to one or two people unless they genuinely want it (there are people like that). Leaving someone to shoulder that every meeting gets old fast.
Make sure you have an exit plan. This is especially true for groups made of random people. I honestly don’t have suggestions for this. It’s more something that came up and people didn’t know what to do, but part of my coping with PTSD is having an exit plan wherever I go, and it seems like it would help here. You need a way to kindly not invite someone back. There will be bad feelings but it won’t be nearly as bad if something is worked out in advance.
That about covers everything that was suggested to me. Feel free to leave stuff I might have missed in the comments.
Thank you to my gracious followers. I do this for you. In addition, I’d like to thank Carl and Magen Rossi of Rossi Publishing Games for their input. I couldn’t have written this without their help, since I have mostly tangential experience with writing groups.
If you have suggestions for future writing journals, let me know. I have plenty of topics left in mind, but if you need something for that next great novel, I’m happy to help. You can leave suggestions in the comments, send me a note, or contact my publisher through social media at realRPGames.
Until next week.
May you keep running forward and never look back.