Rules for Your Writing Group

From David Farland:

I’ve belonged to several writing groups, and many of them were excellent, while a couple were actually dysfunctional. I’d like to suggest a few things that you can do to keep your writing group on track.

First, have a leader for your group—a president, and a sergeant-at-arms. The president’s job might be to lead discussions and to submit ideas for rule changes. The sergeant-at-arms is a person who talks quietly to someone who breaks the rules and let’s them know that the group has a problem. He or she may even need to evict others. Usually, both positions are voted upon.

Second, manage the size of your group. You don’t want to be overwhelmed by piles of manuscripts to critique each week, so don’t let the group get too big. I’ve seen writing groups with 150 people in them, and at that size, you can’t really have a meaningful critique of a novel. Even ten people is too large.

I’ve been in some groups where each writer was expected to submit, say, twelve pages a week. That worked very well. It meant that each writer progressed each week, but no writer came in with two hundred pages, week after week.

Generally speaking, by the time you’ve had eight people comment on a single manuscript, you’re probably critiqued it enough, so decide how big you want your group to be—three people, six? Once you hit your limit, close the group. In the same way, you don’t want the group to be too small. Search for members who compliment the group, people who have their own skillsets. Some authors, for example, might be full of passion and excitement. Another may have a vast understanding of a given genre. Those two writers are stronger together than they would be apart.

Meet together often. Most groups seem to work well when they meet weekly. If you try once a month, it can work, but groups that don’t meet together regularly will fizzle out.

Critiques should be written on the manuscript (either in pen or in a file) so that the author can compile the ideas when finished. Talking about the critique verbally, though, helps stimulate ideas in others and gets members of the group focused on a story, so you want to have both written and verbal comments. Always start a critique with something positive. Knowing what works is as important for a writer as knowing what to fix. More importantly, it helps authors remember to accentuate the positive, give praise when it might be needed the most. Give substantive criticism in oral critiques: talk about plot, characterization, scene building, pacing and other “big-ticket items.” Don’t waste a group’s time by talking about punctuation, spelling, dropped words or typos in an oral critique. Sure, you can fix commas in a written critique, but don’t belabor the point. 

Link to the rest at David Farland

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