When I decided to start a writing group, I didn’t just slap something up on social media or tack a flyer on the bulletin board of a book store or coffee shop to solicit writers. I privately recruited people whose writing I had already read and respected – people I liked. After I secured my top picks, I put the idea out on Facebook WITH some conditions. I listed the genres that need not apply, apologized in advance for not welcoming them with open arms, and wished them well. For fear of offending anyone, I won’t list those genres here. Let’s just say that I am prone to flashbacks from having to endure the readings of exhaustingly plodding poems about leaves or some convoluted mash-up of intergalactic contention between angels and space aliens that left me twitchy by the end. I have no poker face. I just don’t relish having to slap on an encouraging smile as I ride out lengthy descriptions of serial-killer-high-school-science-teachers slashing body parts in some haunted shack off the I-70 in Eastern Utah. There’s a reason I don’t read that stuff. If I’m being honest, the only book I’ve ever read by horror master Stephen King is his book on writing which is called… and this is brilliant… On Writing. It’s a page-turner! And it didn’t make me pee down the side of my leg. In any case, regardless of your genre of choice, get into a group that is able to support you the best.
Once you get a group together, here are some brass tacks to make sure it moves and grooves like it should:
- Meet once a week. It’s a big commitment, but the time you invest in this group will return to you tenfold and more. We’ve talked with groups who only meet once a month. Guess what? They don’t have websites. They don’t go on field trips. They aren’t making any kind of an impact on their communities. They aren’t building their platforms, and many aren’t getting published. They write, and they critique each other – period – which is fine if that’s all a group wants to do. But The Flying M-Inklings have higher aspirations, and so do most writers we talk to.
- Find the perfect number of members for your group. The Flying M-Inklings have seven members, six who meet regularly plus Cody who we’ve named our M-Inkling Emeritus because he moved away. (He still shares his writing wisdom on our site.) Keep the group small enough so that solid relationships can be built but large enough so that if one or even two members can’t make it one week, it doesn’t leave a gaping hole in the group.
- Once members are fully committed, be loyal to one another. When the M-Inklings first began to meet, we were liquid. No one was necessarily permanent. We stayed fluid and tested the reliability and loyalty of our members with a rule that basically said if a person is gone three consecutive weeks, they’re out. As we got to know each other and people proved their commitment to the group (not to mention their writing chops), we began to gel. After a year-and-a-half, we are concrete. People can move out of state, and they are still very much a part of us and will be forever. Our vision is to become iridium in the years to come, resistant to corrosion. Till death do us part.
- Have a regular submission schedule and set aside one week a month that is devoted to business. The M-Inklings have a private Facebook page where we communicate with each other and post our submissions. At the top of the page, Colby has magically made our submission schedule stick to the top. (He’s handy like that.) Katie and I know we’re always up the first Saturday of the month. Nic and Shannon are the following week, and Colby and Brandon The fourth (and fifth when there is one) Saturday of each month is when we get down to the business of our website; we plan our field trips, retreats, and community outreach endeavors. We also sit in a think tank and dream up new and fresh ways to get ourselves into trouble. Flexibility is key, obviously, but the structure has helped us to be phenomenally productive.
- Make sure writers submit a few days before your group meets. This way everyone else has time to read, contemplate, and provide a quality examination of the work. Members should come prepared to have a meaningful conversation. The only time we ever read to each other is during our annual retreat in October or while our families are all camping together in the summers. We don’t expect one another to necessarily critique those pieces – we simply enjoy and talk about them. If your group’s protocol is to read the work right there in the meeting, expecting people to shoot from the hip in response, their feedback is probably lacking. No… their feedback is lacking, sorry to say; however, if you plan ahead and make sure your group can read your work before everyone arrives, this is easily remedied. Your time will be much better spent and your critiques will be meaningful and beneficial.
- Have a plan for how your group will spend your time together. Our group is together every Saturday for three hours. We’ll take the first hour and talk, laugh, eat a bagel, and simply catch up on how our lives are going. It’s pretty chill – we have to wait for the caffeine to kick in, after all. The second hour is when we critique whichever two people have submitted pieces that week. The third hour, we write. Not one minute is wasted – especially not that first hour when all we do is sit and shoot the breeze. I think that’s been the magic that is us. We straight up love each other. The M-Inklings produce a colossal amount of work, we get out into the community, and we’re making a name for ourselves. Believe me, we’re busy too. But the best work we do is friendship – hands down – and we consider that first hour every Saturday nothing less than sacred.
- Don’t get your panties in a wad if someone (or everyone) in the group pans your work. Yeah, I said it. This friendship that you build with each other comes in darn handy when there is constructive criticism “Flying” around. Being vulnerable in your writing is the nature of the beast and, to be frank, every member has to possess a measure of maturity if the group is going to be successful. Take it or leave it, but be open to whatever the others have to say. I submitted a piece once about rage – I thought it would be really edgy. The group thought it was hiLARious! They laughed their butts off, and then they all did Daisy Martin impressions with their favorite lines. Did I storm off? Did I throw a fit? Did I threaten to quit? No. I told them, “I can’t stand any of you,” and they laughed even harder. Good self-esteem is a non-negotiable. If you can’t handle your work being sidelined by the people who love you, you might want to avoid ever pitching it to agents and publishers who reject people for a living.
- Celebrate every victory. Without this, you’re all writing with invisible ink, and you won’t last. People will reach their goals and see their literary dreams come true. Don’t allow those moments to disappear without fanfare. Throw a party, have a BBQ, or sneak some champagne into your beloved coffee shop so you can make mimosas!
I’m sure there are many of you out there who could add to this list. Maybe you agree with us or maybe you disagree with something. What say you? (We all have good self-esteem and promise not to get our panties in a wad!) Start a thread and put your wisdom on this post for us and for everybody else – we’ll get on and write you back!
Daisy Rain Martin is editor in chief for RAIN Magazine. She is also the author of Juxtaposed: Finding Sanctuary on the Outside and If It’s Happened to You, which can both be found on her website. Look for Hopegivers: Hope is Here in 2015.