On the opening evening of the 2017 AIHEC Student Conference in Rapid City, students from an array of TCUs entertained conference goers with the spoken word at the annual poetry slam. Watch the video →
Forming a Writers’ Group
Writing is a solitary activity. We writers love nothing more than to be left alone with our thoughts and a blinking cursor. That is until we hit a figurative roadblock and need help to remove it. Many writers find that nothing gets the creative juices flowing quite like a looming deadline. Yet, what’s to motivate us when there’s no one immediately waiting for our next piece? What we need is a collective of writers who meet regularly to share work and support one another. What we need is a writers’ group.
Joining a writers’ group is a great way for beginning writers to glean the tricks of the trade from their peers. Developing writers can use the group to hone their work for submissions. Published writers can share what they’re working on to inquire if they’re evolving or merely telling the same story in a variety of ways. In short, a group provides a space for writers to help evaluate which creative flames should be fanned and which should be extinguished. What if there isn’t a group in your area? Fear not—this column will explain how you, my fellow writers, can form and run your own writers’ group.
- Assembling the group:
- You’re going to need to identify one or more people to coordinate the group, help set meeting details, and become the point person(s) for group members.
- You should define what kind of group you intend to create. Are all writing genres allowed? My personal belief is that having a group of diverse writing interests is an asset because it allows for a wide range of feedback. A diverse group could also allow for the creation and encouragement of cross-genre writing that could potentially appeal to a wider audience.
- Define what level you would like group members to be writing at. Would you like a group of beginners, novices, writers looking to publish, published writers only, or a mix of all of the above? Again, my personal belief is that having a group with diverse skill levels is an asset because it allows for a wide range of feedback. A diverse group could allow for a variety of opinions, which may identify different strengths and opportunities.
- Determine how many pages one writer can share per meeting. A good starting place is 1000 words, or 10 minutes per writer.
- Loosely define how often the group will meet, as well as the location and the length of meetings.
- Finally, post notices for group members based on the aforementioned criteria using both social media and boards at community gathering places such as libraries and recreation centers. People who respond affirmatively are the founding members of your group.
- Pre-work before each meeting:
- Notify group members of the date, location, and time of the next meeting.
- Let them know that they are required to read their new work at each meeting or share it electronically for others to peruse before the meeting. This reminder encourages continuous writing amongst all group members.
- Inform group members that they should be ready to focus their listeners’ attention on a key aspect(s) of their writing to help identify any area for improvement.
- Optional: Following the first meeting, require all new members to either wait until the end or wait until the second meeting to read their work. This will help to ensure that each new member knows the expectations and is committed to the group. I’ve run multiple groups where a new member joined simply because he/she wanted a proofreader, reading first and then making a getaway.
- Running each meeting:
- You should elect a facilitator to assure the meeting is fair, progresses well, and achieves its goals. Your facilitator will serve as the chair for the group, and so it is important that he/she is elected based on his/her interpersonal communication skills.
- The facilitator will then set an order for readers. He/she could take volunteers, draw numbers, or pick the order, etc.
- Next, the first writer introduces the piece and identifies which aspect(s) the group should focus on. This is not to say that the group members can’t comment on any component they choose, rather it is a way to focus their attention and seek richer discussion than “I like it all” or “it seems great.”
- The facilitator will set a timer/word count for the reading to keep each writer within the allotted time (this may not be necessary for all groups, but it’s a practical way to ensure fairness and manage time).
- The writer then reads the piece he/she brought to the meeting.
- After the writer is finished, each group member will identify the strengths of the piece and opportunities for improvement. Again, the group could take volunteers, draw numbers, or have the facilitator pick the order for each group member to give feedback.
- Limit discussion to ensure fairness.
- The facilitator should then note when the writer will bring the updated piece back to the group to show progress, if desired (this helps motivate revision).
- Repeat for all writers (the facilitator may have to hand off the facilitating role when completing his/her turn).
- The group then sets the next meeting date, time, and location.
I realize that the aforementioned may seem rigid or daunting, and if your group doesn’t need one or more of these steps then simply ignore those that don’t pertain. The goal of this column is to help you create a group that suits your needs. If that group meets regularly and is a perpetual source of encouragement and helpful feedback, then you have a functioning writers’ group. You’ve extended the solitary art form of writing and made it into a social practice.
Ryan Winn teaches English, theater, and communication at College of Menominee Nation, where he has been recognized as the American Indian College Fund’s Faculty Member of the Year.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the Writer’s Corner or any other opinion columns published by the Tribal College Journal (TCJ) do not necessarily reflect the opinions of TCJ or the American Indian Higher Education Consortium.