Saturday, January 28, 2012

Writers Group: My take on how to run one

In September I began a writers' group.  Well, I can't take total credit for it.  I belong to the writers guild of a local semi-large Southern City.  I attended one of their established writers groups and found it too large for my taste.  Because there was not one in my "neck of the woods" (whatever that means; for me it means my county which is a suburb of that semi-large Southern City), I decided to say we would have one.  I arranged for it to meet in a library and away we went.  The first meeting had six people; we are up to maybe ten now.  It has gone through some evolution and probably still will. 

To let you know what I've learned, here goes.

Our group is multi-genre.  That will not work for everyone; it works for us right now.  I think if everyone is writing the same genre there may be a tendency toward turfism and jealousy, as in "that's not the way I would do that."  If the group were full of professional, multi-published writers, maybe not.

Our group has a lot of talent.  I enjoy reading what we share.  We are also nice people.

People should have the freedom to read aloud if they like or pass around manuscripts if they like.  Because I write to be read (not heard), I want it to be seen on paper.  But some forms of poetry and some writing needs to be heard.

Food always helps.  It gets people in a better mood.

People should not be allowed to critique if they are not consistently writing and submitting. 

Each member should get an equal amount of time, so use a stopwatch for the ten or however many minutes each person gets. 

Someone has to be skillful in watching that someone doesn't get overly criticized or overly critical.

Every group needs a leader.   That may mean taking some criticism for how one leads. 

I have told my members to indicate on their emails (when they send around manuscripts) what they want help with.  Otherwise you get a lot of people obsessed with spelling.  I don't care about my spelling.  My main concern is character, clarity, and diction.  I am an academic and we write a certain way that is antithetical to good fiction writing.  I want to know if I am getting obscure in that way.

Finally, flexibility as the group grows and progresses is needed.  We have had to revisit ground rules at least three times, for various reasons.

Everyone needs someone else reading their writing.  The market, especially e-book market, is being absolutely glutted with crap that is not being edited or vetted.  Potential writers aren't submitting their work to the stresses of critique out of pride and laziness.  To Kill a Mockingbird was in editorial processes for two years.  It shows. 

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