For me, and I believe most other writers, writing is a solitary process. In fact, there were only a handful of people who even knew I was writing a book at all. In the very beginning, I shared the first few chapters with a couple friends and asked them what did they think of this as a premise for a book.  When they gave me the thumbs up, I worked to finish my manuscript, a very long and slow process of writing, re-writing, deleting, and re-writing some more. It was too much to ask friends to read in their spare time, but I definitely needed another set of eyes to look things over.  Why? Because what made sense in my head didn’t always translate that way on paper. Hence, I formed a writing group with like-minded and similarly goaled writers to critique each other’s work.

If you are in the same situation of writing – whether you’re working on a novel, a short story, a script, a poem, or anything in between – you may also find a writing group to be useful.  Here are my tips in forming, or joining, such a group.

Identify writers who are working in the same general genre.  For instance, the other members of my Wednesday group are all working on fiction novels, although the particular niche is slightly different. We have chic-lit/romance and fantasy, but they are all women-focused fiction. You can determine whether it matters if some are working on short story versus novel, but I think poems and novels would be a bad mix. Why? Because the writing style is different, the length of the work is different. You want to be working on similar projects.

Preview writing to make sure you like the other group members’ writing.  Call it judgmental, but you have to like the others’ writing or each meeting, you’re going to be upset that you’ve got to read something you don’t like and who has time for that? Further, be sure you like the story and genre of the others.  Erotica, sci fi, and historical fiction aren’t for everyone.  There could be a great writer in my group, but if she’s writing horror, every week I’d be walking around scared out of my wits.

Find group members you like as people.  You’re going to be meeting with these people on a regular basis for who knows how long. My Sunday group has been meeting for at least ten years; although members come in and out, there has been the same core of people since I met them. My Wednesday group has been meeting for over two years, every two weeks. You spend a lot of time with these people, baring your writing soul to them. Why spend that kind of time with people you don’t like?

Establish ground rules. Discuss when you will meet, how you will decide who will share their writing, how long a submission can be, how you will critique.  My Sunday group allows everyone to share a few pages that are presented at the meeting and read out loud.  My Wednesday group requires those who are submitting to do so a week ahead of the meeting day, a maximum of 20 pages; everyone reads and makes notes before the meeting, to be discussed in person.  Your decisions on the rules may be determined by the writing genre; for instance, the Sunday method is great for poetry, short story, and essays. The Wednesday method is a great option for novels, so you can read a chapter or two in whole.

Have specific tasks for members. Have someone responsible for various tasks so everything gets done. Like what?  Scheduling, whether reserving a room or confirming the host.  Time keeping, making sure everyone gets equal amount of time for discussion of their work.  Refreshments, determine who is bringing the coffee and the cupcakes or bringing the delivery menu.

Be respectful and be constructive. No matter what you are writing, writing is a very personal task. Beyond that, letting other people read your writing and then sitting back while they pick it apart is soul-bearing. Be respectful of each other’s work. In both of my groups, it’s common for someone to say something like “this doesn’t work for me,” “I don’t believe the character would do/say this,” “I don’t find this part is plausible.”  But something like “this is awful!” would be way off course, it’s hurtful and not helpful.  If you have an expertise in an area, offer it, whether it’s professional knowledge or from a hobby.  One of the members in my Wednesday group sails, so when another was writing about a storm, she could offer some useful advice on how a barometer works and how sailors adjust to winds and waves.

With all that, let me add this. What your group says is not gospel.  If they say “your main character running off to a desert island would be more interesting” and you want her to stay put in New York City – stick with it. Your group isn’t there to change or re-write your story, they’re there to help you strengthen the story you want to tell.

Enjoy your group and the group process.  Writing and re-writing can be painful enough, why add something to the mix that’s not enjoyable?

Are you in a writing group and have other tips? Are you considering forming a writing group and have other questions?  I would love to hear about your experience.