It's hard to become a better writer if you do most of your work in a vacuum. Forming a writers group surrounds you with other folks invested in honing their skills and garners feedback that's relevant and actionable.

Why I started my first writers group

Early in the 2000s tech-bust recession, I developed an irrational fear of forgetting how to write after most of my work dried up. The only writing I was doing was queries, networking emails and job search-y stuff. It didn't feel like "real writing". I had a few other LA-area writer friends in the same boat, so I suggested we get together every week and do some writing. I pulled together some writing prompts, developed a few timed writing assignments, bought some snacks and we got started.

We weren't doing the kind of writing any of us had been paid for, and that was kind-of the point. We stretched and played and developed higher-level skills. We also got really good at giving feedback focused on writing quality, not marketing checkboxes or AP Style or whatever. It kept us all sane and active and we kept doing it even after the recession eased and we were all working again.

You don't have to wait for an economic crisis to start a group. If you want to benefit from a small writing community, just do it.

How to start a writers group

Here are 6 steps to form a writing group:

  1. Figure out what you need from the group. Maybe it's being accountable to others so you'll actually write. Or it's getting input from other people. Or it's something else entirely. Knowing what you want to get out of the experience is vital to gathering the right group. It also helps you decide how you want your group to run.
  2. Determine your perspective. This is a pretty nuanced action item, I admit. The best way to explain what I mean is through a cautionary tale. I was invited to a writers group of people working on major projects like novels and screenplays. I was working on a one-woman show, so it seemed like a good fit. Except it wasn't. These folks were very literary and the POV was all about denouement and character arcs and stuff that I wasn't up on. At first I thought it would be a good learning opportunity, but in the end I left because I was self-conscious about what I didn't know and the fact that I didn't really care about it, either.
  3. Choose an approach. Do you want a group that writes together and shares a little or an activity-based or prompted writing group? The former's pretty low-drag. The other requires you (or someone) to design the programming. I lean toward the latter here because I'm a natural-born teacher/coach. If you want to share facilitator duties, choose someone you collaborate well with. (Seems obvious, bears repeating.)
  4. Identify potential members. I don't have any specific criteria for choosing members, but I will say you should pick people who are likely to show up, who aren't shy about sharing and giving honest feedback, and whose writing you admire (notice I didn't say you had to like it. I don't really dig science fiction, but I included a sci-fi-writing friend to join my LA group because I respected the crap out of how he crafted his tales.) Another "seems obvious" tip: Don't invite people you don't want to spend time with. Seriously. Writing is deeply personal and writing groups can be intense. Don't harsh the benefits by including people who don't share the sparkle. And remove the ones who don't. Yeah. I've done it.
  5. Select a size. My first group started with 3 other people and got as large as 10. Most of the time we were at about 8, which made it possible to do some sharing without taking all damn night. My most recent "group" was me and another friend. Think about how many writer egos you can handle in one space practically and emotionally.
  6. Establish some rules of engagement. Nobody wants to write with a martinet, but it's helpful to have some expectations for your community. Like showing up for sessions, sharing your work, maybe contributing to the snack selection, whatever. In my groups, I always establish a way of giving feedback so we're all on the same page. This conveys that you take this seriously and builds strong bonds among your community. In my Hollywood groups, confidentiality and not stealing ideas were requirements. Depending on your goals and members, you may need that level of rules, too.

How to start a writers group for your work writing

Margot Lester's writing tips for marketing pros

I love the idea of a writers group for the writing we do at work. Chances are, you probably have a small group of colleagues you consult (or kvetch) with about work assignments. Maybe it makes sense to formalize it?

When I do trainings or am brought in for reorgs, one of the first things I do is create a writing community among the people I'm working with. We develop a shared language for giving feedback, create criteria for what good writing looks like, and support each other in producing great work. Some of these groups remain informal, some are short-term and others are official groups. Others are ad hoc groups called together for a specific purpose. When I consulted with the GRAMMYS, we convened the writers regularly for "jam sessions" to brain storm and develop content packages or to write together. My favorite was when we convened to rewrite all the web error messages a visitor to our site would get.

You could form a group within your department or across the organization. You could even form a group with people outside your company, but I'd be careful about that for competitive reasons. You may want to check with HR or Legal before you take that step. (Unless, of course, your group is
"recreational" in nature.)

So what are you waiting for? If you want to create a writers group, step it up and go!

Related Content