Finding the right writing group Pt. 2

So, as I said in my last post, myself and a few others from a larger writing group decided to break off and form our own. In the beginning, we had around six people. I can’t recall for certain. Some dropped out almost immediately, and we acquired others, so it’s hard to remember who was in when. I don’t believe we ever had over seven members at one time. This brought us to the first wrinkle we had to iron out: how many people we wanted and who we wanted those people to be.

This wrinkle led to others, and we finally decided that we needed some rules. We decided early on that we didn’t want to charge dues, as we weren’t going to do anything that costs money like, hold a conference. We wanted to meet at each others houses, once a week. We wanted to keep things friendly. And since we wanted to give in-depth critiques, we figured we’d keep it under ten people, and around 4000 words per submission. All submissions would be printed out by the author (enough for each member) and be brought to the meeting to be handed out and discussed at the following meeting.

This has all worked well, except for the under ten thing. I now think seven is the max number of people I would be comfortable with. My group has six, and if everyone is submitting, that’s 20,000 (discounted one’s own submission) to read and critique a week. It might not sound like an awful lot, but it is when you really have to think about what the author is saying and how you want to respond.

We all agreed on most of the rules, including one we made about not using red pens because that seemed like what a teacher would do, and none of us would be teacher. We were peers, colleagues, and none of us knew better than anyone else. This led us right to who to let in.

We didn’t want to be an open group, with people just showing up and then leaving whenever they liked. We wanted a commitment. In fact, we agreed that if a person didn’t show up regularly, he or she was out. We wanted people who were passionate not only about writing, but about finishing projects, perhaps to publish. We developed a sort of interview process, and it saved us quite a few headaches. We were able to weed out those who just wanted to use us for networking and those that thought you couldn’t have honesty without brutality.

Needless to say, we had a lot of teething troubles and some early-on disagreements, but we were able to finally hammer out an arrangement everyone was comfortable with. And I see now that this post is getting extra long, so on Tuesday I’ll do Pt. 3 where I’ll outline what we did to boost membership during the lean months and tell you about the few times we had to give someone the boot.

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2 thoughts on “Finding the right writing group Pt. 2

    • Absolutely. Thanks for the question. ^_^

      Our first contact is through e-mail. (We have our address on the net in various places.) We ask for the first ten pages of any manuscript and a brief bio. Everyone in the group reads these two pieces, usually in about a week, and we respond to the person as to whether or not they’d be a good fit for our group. We’re all at about the same writing “level”, and we look for people who can both help us, and who we can help in turn. If we think the person is a good fit, we ask to meet them somewhere public (like a restaurant) instead of immediately taking them to one of our houses. So far, all of our interviewees have been happy that we did this, so we can all prove that we’re not axe-wielding maniacs. Then we talk about writing and critiquing and get a feel about the interviewee’s personality. Basically, we try to determine whether the person can give and receive a critique gracefully. After that, we outline our rules for them, make sure they can handle a weekly commitment. After that, we thank them and go our separate ways, and the group votes online, and the person is informed of the decision via email. Hmm, I should probably include this in the next post…. Thanks again for the question! ^_^

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