Hosting a Writer’s Gathering: The Basics

Hosting a writers’ gathering is another way to take your pen life to the next level. It’s fun. Maybe there isn’t one in your area or you are looking for something specific in a writer’s group. Starting a group is a way to create a community, mingle with other like-minded individuals, network, and be encouraged to write. The more I’m involved with a writer’s group, the more motivated I am to write away. Even the most experienced, disciplined writers have their days and need a dose of encouragement or support.

Never underestimate the potential of writer’s gatherings. I am proud of the writer’s group in Singapore led by Alice-Clark Platts who became more organized and are now publishing their first anthology, Rojak, Stories of Singapore Writer’s Group through crowdfunding. I met this group through meetup.com as a newcomer to Singapore. Please consider supporting this awesome project.

First things first. Before you begin, ask yourself what you hope to get out of the group. What is the purpose? Groups that lack purpose tend to fall apart. That doesn’t mean a group purpose should be complicated. Keep it simple, straightforward. Avoid being too narrow or too broad. For instance, are you looking for critique, or to encourage creativity?

Types of writers group
Writer’s Salon: A writer’s salon is generally meant to motivate participants to produce writing (or first draft). Critiquing is de-emphasized. Feedback should be limited to “big picture” topics such as theme, plot, characterization. The purpose is to socialize and write together while having an enjoyable time. A salon can also involve goal-setting and accountability. Typical salon encompasses creative prompts, sharing goals with each other, and writing time. Sharing is not required but encouraged.

  • It’s generally about 3 to 10 people.
  • Varied genre. I found it helpful to hear from writers of different styles and genres
  • Great for mixing experienced, professional, amateur, and beginner writers

The format is: socializing over coffee, appetizers, or snacks. Prompts. Sharing. After that we may do another prompt or talk about our writing goals for the week. Then it’s time to mingle and work on individual projects.

The key to a writer’s salon is that the sole purpose is motivating each other to write. In-depth critiquing should not be expected or be taken to another group. People who participated in the salon often went to another critique group for in-depth critique. The salons I’ve hosted tend to be informal and people come in and out. Salons helped me continue writing my first novel. I was also inspired to write shorter articles. I’d write the novel, then complete a developmental edit. Only after that initial self-revision, I will share my second draft to a critique group. My personal mantra is: Good writing is not written, it is rewritten.

Tips for hosts: please make sure you communicate that salons are meant to be focused on motivating people to write and less critique. Writers come from varying degrees of experience; there are writers who are not familiar with salons. Be positive, fun, and enforce the purpose of the salon.

Critique Group. Most writers are familiar with critique group format. The purpose of a critique group is to receive honest, constructive feedback from other writers. Egos should be checked out at the door. This is not the place to seek validation. Being a professional writer means having the ability, grace to accept valuable feedback to improve writing. You don’t have to accept all the comments, but you must have the ability to consider and accept it. Not everyone has to like your writing. As long as you communicate your intended message effectively to your target audience, you have written well. A good critique group helps you improve your writing and provide accountability. 

To those offering critique, please remember that it is not about your personal preferences or interests. Personal grudges need to be checked at the door. The purpose of critiquing is the help the writer write in a way that effectively reaches out to his or her target audience. There should be absolutely no personal attacks or comments about a writer’s ability or intelligence. Writers come from all backgrounds and experience levels. Even the most intelligent people can make grammatical errors, especially during the first draft. That is why it’s called a first draft. Be tactful, respectful, and appropriate. Here’s a good reminder.

“It’s okay to disagree with the thoughts or opinions expressed by other people. That doesn’t give you the right to deny any sense they might make. Nor does it give you a right to accuse someone of poorly expressing their beliefs just because you don’t like what they are saying. Learn to recognize good writing when you read it, even if it means overcoming your pride and opening your mind beyond what is comfortable.”
― Ashly Lorenzana

  • Size: 3 to 6 is the ideal size.
  • Commitment: can be weekly or biweekly but everyone commits to punctual and regular attendance. Being late and flaky is not only inconsiderate, but disruptive to everyone in the group.
  • Genre: I prefer compatible genres. This is so that everyone’s needs are met.
  • Experience: Anyone who is at the level of getting feedback and revision. It can be a new writer or seasoned writer, but someone who is willing to study writing on their own. However, critique group shouldn’t turn a coaching session. Some of the experienced writers get frustrated when that happens. Avoid taking on the teacher role and point out resources instead. Some writer groups prefer experienced writers and will ask participants to be previously published or have an MFA degree. How you choose to approach it is entirely up to you.

This is based on my experience of participating and hosting different groups and what I discovered works for me. Everyone has their own preference. The most important thing is you find something that works for you.

How to do it?
Once you decide, use your networks and talk about it. Find one more compatible person who may be interested in being your partner-in-crime for hosting the group. That makes it more fun.

Planning. Decide what genres are compatible. My genre is contemporary, women’s upmarket fiction with immigration and multicultural cosmopolitan themes. I’m open to historical, realistic, literary, mystery, thriller, adult fiction. But I’d rather not have sci-fi or fantasy. It’s not that anything is wrong with it but I’d rather keep the group focused. I prefer writers who are serious, experienced, or committed.

Advertise. I’d then advertise by word-of-mouth or through local writer organizations and events. Online through meetup.com or other avenues also work. Once people respond, I communicate and have a chat with them to find out what they are looking for in a critique group and their project. This informal “interview” is to make sure people who attend are committed, show up on time, and will critique.

First Meeting. Mingle and get to know each other. Have an icebreaker ready. Have each person talk about themselves, genre, goals and what they hope to get out of the group, and share an excerpt. This helps keep the group focused and you can get a sense of everyone’s writing styles. Then chat with the group about practical things such as how often? format? and suggestions. If everyone feels that they are a part of it, there is an increased motivation to participate.

For me this is what worked for us:

  • one weekly meeting at someone’s house or a nearby pizza place.
  • we focus on one person who shares a chapter per week and when that person shares his or her entire novel then we go to the next person. This keeps it focused. After the critique, people are free to ask questions or advice about their writing or socialize.
  • in the rare event if one cannot show up, he or she has to let everyone know and email the critique before. This should be occasional. Inconsistency cannot be accepted.
  • 4 people is the ideal number. We had 6 but two people left, because one was writing a genre different from the rest of the group. She found another group. The other person was kicked out for being obnoxious. If there are too many people, then offer to help reorganize and break it up into smaller groups or help facilitate the beginning of a separate smaller group.

Writer’s Networking Event, Open Mic, or Social

I attended a dinner party hosted by a local online women’s magazine editor. She hosted a well-planned out Italian dinner party. I should have taken notes just in case I have to plan an event in the future. She had a local pizza company cater pizzas with antipasto and salad. We had drinks and antipasto first. The chef gave us a pizza tossing demo and tips for baking pizzas. While sitting at the table, we chatted about the magazine and all were given a chance to introduce themselves. This event was meant to build a network of local writers and promote a starting of a women’s online magazine. I still remember the hostess baking delicious tiramisu.

Larger events or parties are great if it’s laid back, casual, and fun. Having some kind of an introduction or icebreaker in the beginning encourages conversations. Then, an open mic reading or games would be fun. There should be plenty of time to socialize. If you are interested in party planning, there are many books and blogs out there. I’m only going to discuss writer-specific kind of things. With open-mic, it’s a good idea to plan who’d emcee, how many people are sharing, and time limit. If the total length of the readings are too long, plan an intermission such as dessert break. You could use these parties to meet other writers, make new friends, and network. Most importantly, have fun. A good way to bring people together is to have these parties regularly. That allows writers to meet each other, get plugged in, and create their own critique or salon groups. Or who knows, you may be a matchmaker when you discover that someone met their significant other at one of your writer parties. That’s one the many benefits you will reap when you decide to host your own writer’s group.

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