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How to Start a Writers' Group (And Keep It Going)

by Padurariu Alexandru, via Unsplash
The benefits that come from having your work critiqued, and critiquing the works of others, is undeniable. And writing is such a solitary activity that the social aspect of having a group of like-minded writer buds to spend time with is necessary, at least for me. I'm fortunate enough to have a wonderful online writers' group, as well as a social, happy hour-hunting one where I live. If you're interested in forming your own group either online or in your town, here's a few tips to get you started.

1. Take your time. Join a few forums, hang out in the comments section of your favorite blogs (winkwink), and pay attention to what other writers are saying. Engage in conversation; find a few people that you feel you can relate to before broaching the subject of forming a group.

2. Set a number. This sounds cliquish of me. But here's how I see it; there are quadrillions of writers out there. Why not quadrillions of writers' groups? My personal opinion is that critique groups in particular work best when the group is small. Would you provide better feedback if you had five WIPs to critique, or twenty? There IS room for everyone – everyone can join or start a writers' group! But smaller tends to be easier, as it's less overwhelming for everyone involved.

3. Consider genres. I hesitate to say "find other writers in your genre," because I think reading and critiquing books outside the genres you normally write/read can only make you a better writer. But if horror makes you squeamish, then you may not want to join a group with a horror writer, as you won't enjoy the experience and probably won't offer her the best feedback on her work.

4. Drop the defensiveness. Let's face it; even when we say "oh yes, I want criticism!" deep down, part of us longs for praise. And sometimes, we get it! But that's not the point of a writers' group. One or more of your fellow writers may give you feedback you disagree with – strongly. A defensive attitude is not the way to go, as it will only make folks hesitant to critique you in the future. And more often then not, after a few days of stewing over the comments, you might start to realize they make a little bit of sense.

5. Provide honest, polite criticism. If you think the story has serious issues, you'll be doing the author no favors to keep silent. Tell them the problem (nicely), and if at all possible, offer a few ideas on how to solve it. And if they get defensive, send them up to number 4. Being fairly timely also helps, and hopefully your buddies will return the favor!
Michelle Schusterman

Michelle writes books for kids, screenplays for a tv/film production company, and music for anyone who'd buy a "groove matters" bumper sticker. She lives in New York City with her husband (and band mate) and their chocolate lab (who is more of a vocalist). She is the author of middle grade series I Heart Band - 2014, and The Kat Sinclair Files - 2015 (both from Grosset).

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  1. Thanks for this. I've tried starting a crit group at my school in the past, but it's never really worked out. Perhaps that's just because high school students don't really know how to be polite, but it's always turned into a disaster.

  2. A good thing to remember about crits is that you asked for them. A simple 'Thank you' will suffice if you didn't like what you receive.

    Great post! I think I need to get back into getting crits myself.

  3. Great post! I think you're spot on. I'd just add one more: make sure you stick to a schedule! It's pretty easy to veer off course.

  4. Writers groups are harrrrrd to start, but worth it in the end.

    It may seem cliquish to set numbers, but it really is a good idea. Although that's one of the things I have the hardest time adhering to because what if someone awesome comes along??

    My group is at right about capacity at the moment, but one thing we've done when newcomers show interest is try to band with other groups in the area so new groups can form or perhaps split off. Particularly if your group is critiquing, it can get kinda hinky with more than six or eight people.

    Nice post! :)

  5. Great post! I was in a creative writing workshop last year and it was so beneficial. Now that it's over I'd love to find more writers who want to have a critique group.

    Did I mention I was the only YA writer in the group?

  6. Fantastic points. Man, it's hard to take criticism, but man, it's hard to get better without it, right?

  7. Christine, it gets easier the more you write :)

    I would be lost without my fab YAH girls because there are no in-person writing groups in my area, and honestly, finding the write crit partners isn't just about going to a meeting. You have to really want to help as much as be helped!

  8. Umm yeah, that write should have been right partners. I guess its sorta the same though! LOL

  9. This is a great list. Crit groups are crucial!
    As far as considering genre, I think you are right to avoid only critiquing (and getting critques from) people in the same genre as you write. But...the people in your group should at least be familiar with what you write,as in have read it or written it in the past. Nothing is less helpful than a comment preceeded by "Well, I don't know how they do it in YA, but..."

  10. Thanks!

    I've just joined a crit group.

    Our magic number is 9. We've got mostly general fiction and YA writers. Since each of us knew most of the others, as bloggers for quite some time, it goes pretty well.

    Plus, a member of the group is my Alpha right now. And having an Alpha is forcing me to write outside Nanowrimo for the first time. :)


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