Create your own writers’ group
by Zev Bagel
Starting and running a writers’ group can be as easy or as complicated as you like. I’ve experienced both kinds. I’ll talk about the easy way, since it’s up to you to develop and you may be someone who loves all the intricacies of setting up rules and memberships and roles and bank accounts.
Whichever way you want to go, here are the two things to remember when thinking about a writers’ group. It has to be fun; and it has to help each member to develop his or her own writing style. You can think of a lot more reasons to have a group, but those two will be sufficient to attract and keep people engaged.
Here’s how I began the Shediac Writers’ Group (we’re still thinking of a name, but that’s it for now).
First, I gathered names and contact information of writers I met. I met them at local writing workshops (one of which I ran), at WFNB events when I heard someone was from this location, and through conversations with locals when we discovered our shared writing interests. Every time (when I thought of it) I would ask if the person might be interested in being part of a writers’ group. This took six to nine months.
Next, I called a meeting of those 12 – 15 people. Nine came, with most of the others expressing interest. We met in my home and discussed what we wanted from such a group. We agreed to meet monthly, at a café, on a Tuesday evening, and that the format would be for everyone to bring a piece of writing to read to the others. We agreed that we would give our comments on the writing, and that this would always be in a positive light. One person (not me) took on the role of sending out the invitation reminders, booking the venue and even taking notes. This has changed hands a few times over the two years we have been meeting.
One reason people felt tentative about being part of a group was their lack of self-confidence. “Oh, I only dabble in a poem or two every now and then,” or “I have this manuscript I’ve never shown to anyone and I don’t know if it’s any good,” and so on. We agreed that part of our purpose would be to help other members overcome this sense of negativity, and to provide a safe and supportive environment or peers.
The result has been encouraging. Most of the original ten members have stayed with us, and all now feel and express a greater confidence in their writing – and it shows. Several have had pieces published in magazines, newspapers and literary journals. One has had a first novel published, with more on the way. Three or four new members have joined by invitation.
Our group consists of people who write poetry, short stories and long fiction. At first there was some concern about this mix, but we have found it refreshing to listen to the variety of writing and writers. Each time we go around the table (we have changed locations and now meet in a bar/restaurant, where they give us a separate niche and understand that we don’t want the TV blaring out) and everyone shares a piece of writing, with the option to pass, or read from another work.
We have been invited several times by different local organizations to do readings and this has been a significant boost to the group. We even received honoraria for some of those sessions and are now discussing publishing our first anthology with the help of those funds.
Above all, it’s fun, it has helped us to develop our writing, and as a bonus, we are a great group of friends.