Part 3: Where to Find Like-Minded Writers
If you’re looking for a writers’ group, and can’t seem to find a good fit, it may be time to form your own. This isn’t nearly as daunting as you might think, because you’ve already established your own ground rules. Here’s where you’ll start:
1. Before advertising anywhere, list your expectations from potential members. When I formed the Em Dashes, I penned a list of what I expected from the group:
- All members had to have publication as their end goal.
- All genres except poetry were welcome.
- All members had to submit a maximum of ten pages, twelve-point font and double-spaced, prior to the biweekly meeting.
- If someone missed four meetings in a row without a legitimate excuse (cancer), they were out.
- Members had to suggest possible discussion topics for future meetings—things they wanted to learn more about, local authors they might want to have come speak to the group, that sort of thing.
- Members had to be willing to “put out”—meaning, they’d get out of the group what they put in. If anyone was unwilling to contribute to the feedback or discussion, they were no longer welcome.
- Members had to have a thick skin and be willing to be mean: I wanted honest feedback, and wanted to feel comfortable giving my critique without worrying about hurting feelings.
- Set a limit on the number of people you’re willing to let join.
- Decide if you’re going to meet in person or online. Online groups eliminate the barrier of location, but honestly, face-to-face meetings tend to do better for holding people accountable for submitting, providing feedback (tone tends to get lost in written critique), and spontaneous discussion.
2. Get the word out. Now that you know what you want, start looking for writers. You can do this two ways: by invitation only, or outright advertising. If you have writer friends that you already know would be a good fit, e-mail them. Stalk Facebook pages that target an audience you might also be targeting (if you live in Maine and write horror, for example, you might want to check out the Horror Writers of Maine). If you’re not having any luck, expand your search. Print out a flier—and include your expectations from members on it—and post it places where writers might habituate: the local library or Starbucks, perhaps? Announce on social media that you’d like to form a group, and list your criteria. You’ll soon be up to your ears in prospective members.
3. Vet your prospective members. If someone wants to join, ask them questions: how long have they been writing? What are they looking to get out of the group? Can they commit to the schedule? It’s perfectly fine to suggest a tryout with prospective members—but word it more politely. Ask them to sit in on a meeting so they can get a feel for the dynamic of the group. Ask them to submit ten pages so you can get an idea of what their writing style and experience is like. And if you suspect they’re not a good fit, tell them so, as gently as possible. But it’s better to tell them early on than to lose other group members because nobody can stand the guy who can’t write and won’t take critique.
4. If you don’t want to form a group, find one. All those places I just mentioned? Look to see if anyone’s forming a group there.
- Ask at the local library.
- Scope out the bulletin board at Starbucks.
- Check out writing pages on Facebook.
- Google “Local Writers’ Groups.”
Ideally, your group will come together and everyone will mesh well. You’ll learn from each other and grow together, and you’ll all be one happy family.
But we do not live in an ideal world. Which is why we’re going to follow up next time with Part 4: When to Fire Someone or Yourself From Your Writers’ Group.
Stacey Longo is the author of Ordinary Boy (nominated for a Pushcart Prize) and Secret Things: Twelve Tales to Terrify. Most recently, her novella “Brando and Bad Choices” appeared in Triplicity: The Terror Project, Volume 1. Her stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, including Shroud, Shock Totem, and the Litchfield Literary Review.
She is a past Hiram Award winner, and was a featured author on the 2014 Connecticut Authors Trail. A former humor columnist for the Block Island Times, she maintains a weekly humor blog at www.staceylongo.com.