The Power of Synergy: How to Start a Writing Group

The chemistry generated by creative people is not to be underestimated. If you are a creative, you already know that. Ideas become things.

Whether you’re sitting in a think tank with people you trust and respect trying to brainstorm ideas for a blog, or editing a chapter for one of your mates who wants to publish a book, or simply working on a poem or story that’s been stuck in your head for three weeks and won’t go away – five or six heads are better than one.

However, to become greater than the sum of your parts, you must find the right combination of people. This can be a delicate matter, but if you can assemble the right mix with others who are serious about writing, you will hone your craft to a level you never thought possible, and the chances of you actually doing something significant with your writing increase exponentially.

The first writers group of which I was lucky enough to be a part were the Ink Slingers in Bozeman, Montana. My editor and book architect, Donna K. Wallace, was a writer in that group at the time, and it’s where I first met and became literarily smitten with my publisher, Jeremy Soldevilla of Christopher Matthews Publishing (who, incidentally, rejected my first book proposal. Ah, bygones.)

I was only a guest for one night, but this amazing group of writers allowed me to submit a piece, and they all critiqued it. Truly, the fact that they let in an outsider is nothing short of extraordinary.

Most groups are closed, which makes more sense and would be my recommendation for any group. I would probably not do for someone else what was done for me. (Hypocritical much?) In any case, it was just the taste of collaboration I needed to start a group of my own. Here’s how I would recommend starting your writing group.

#1 – Privately solicit a few people with whom you know you’d like to work and see if they would be interested in helping you start something up. If you can’t assemble exactly what you’re looking for, get on your social media and open the group up to the masses. This doesn’t mean you have to let everyone in, but the greatest treasures can come from unexpected places. Once you get the right combination of folks, then and only then… name yourselves. It’s important. You need a collective identity.

The Coffee Garage we meet at every week

The Coffee Garage where we meet

Our group’s name, The Flying M-Inklings (pronounced Minklings [or em-inklings, depending upon which member you ask]) is a nod to the original Inklings writing group in Oxford which included, among other, CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. We didn’t want to steal the name entirely, (only a little bit) so we modified our moniker to include our beloved local coffee shop, The Flying M.

#2 – Make sure you have people with varying strengths and abilities. My writers’ group is a perfect blend.

Shannon (bio) is our “big picture” girl. She’s a macro-thinker and critiques pieces on their overall impact. Katie (bio), on the other hand, finds the most beautiful metaphors, pointing out universal connections that will relate to the masses – and it’s ironic because half the time, whoever wrote the piece didn’t even see it.

Cody (bio) reaches deeply into a piece and knows exactly what questions to ask the author that will take the writing to the next level. Colby (bio) is a “structure and layout” guy, which has been particularly helpful with RAIN magazine and the other writers who are bloggers. Structurally, he can reorganize a text to make it flow the way it should.

Brandon (bio) reads all of the submissions three to four times before we even show up on Saturdays. He looks at each piece with the precision of a surgeon. We all hang on his every word and do exactly what the man says to do because he’s brilliant. I think he’ll be the next of us to be published.

Nic (bio) is the newest member to our group, and already we know we can’t live without him. He’s the “syntax” guy. He said one Saturday, “I noticed that you only used linking verbs in this entire paragraph, and I’m wondering whether that was deliberate and, if so, what your purpose was in doing that?” We all about fell out of our chairs (someone might have spewed coffee out of his nose) and we knew instantly that he was precisely what our group had been missing. Syntax is sexy, people – don’t you forget it.

And me (bio)? Well, I’m the girl who wants to know who you’re writing for, what you’re trying to say, if you’re saying it effectively, and how we can get you in front of the people you’re trying to reach. I just want to see everyone’s dreams come true.

#3 – Have a flexible rotation for submissions and give everyone an opportunity to share their writing. And, yes, everyone must submit pieces equitably – no one gets to be shy. It helps if members will email their writing three or four days before you meet. This way the others can provide editing marks and comments before they arrive and be ready to discuss the piece on the big day.

#4 – Meet weekly and be committed to your writing and to the group, but also be understanding when people are not able to be there. Cody can’t come on every last Saturday. Shannon travels for her job. Katie has to take her daughter to ballet on Saturday mornings once a month. People get sick, Mother Nature piles a ton of snow on the roads (at least here in Idaho) and alarm clocks don’t go off – not to mention any names. (Colby) We have seven writers in our group, so there are always plenty of people to critique the work even if someone can’t make it.

#5 – Don’t get your panties in a wad if someone or a few people or everyone is “meh” about your piece. I wrote something a few weeks ago about rage, and the entire group thought it was hilarious. Not what I was going for. What’re ya gonna do? It happens. Roll with it. You’ve trusted these people for a reason – if they’ve panned your piece, it probably does need work. Don’t get offended.

#6 – Agree on how your time together will be structured. If you’re not careful, you could truly sit and shoot the breeze with everyone for all three hours. We M-Inklings have been guilty of that.

Let’s face it. We’re verbal people. We can’t help it. So, we had to regiment ourselves: From 8:00-9:00, we get our coffees and socialize and talk about everything under the sun. From 9:00-10:00, we edit and critique two writers. Our ‘sacred writing time’ is when we all shut up and write from 10:00-11:00.

If people have to go, they go. If people want to write past 11:00, they write. If Shannon and I want to grab a tax-deductible bite to eat at the pizza joint around the corner and sit and giggle and talk about monetizing my blog, by golly, we do it. Just stick to the schedule and make sure you write.

#7 – Laugh a lot and love these people. Respect their work. Encourage them in their writing endeavors. Hug them. Bring them cookies. Build this mini-community and be thankful for these wonderful writers who journey with you as you create and make thoughts become things.

HeadshotDaisy writes every Saturday on her blog, daisyrainmartin.com. She is also the founder and editor of RAIN Magazine, a magazine that both promotes up-and-coming authors and raises funds for select charities.

 

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