Writer’s Groups That Work


by Pattie Beaven

Starting a writing group seems pretty easy. And honestly, starting one isn’t too hard. You find a place, you set the time and day, and you invite some people over. Easy peasy, right?

Hold on there, Sparky.

Starting a writing group may be easy. Running a successful writing group, however, is easier said than done. Even after one has gotten off the ground, it can be challenging to maintain the momentum.

I stumbled upon a short little guide while perusing the shelves at the library after a Write Now class earlier last month. The title really sold me. “The Complete Guide to Writers Groups That Work” by BJ Taylor. Unlike most books I borrow from the library, which I usually store on my bookshelf or keep in a bag until a couple days before they’re due, I actually started reading this book right away.

I’ve started a writers group. I’ve taken over an existing writers group. And I helped start up a huge island wide writers group. From there, I’ve helped jumpstart two other writers groups meeting once a month at the Freeland Library (on the 2nd Monday of every month) and the Coupeville Library (on the 4th Sunday of every month). So what on earth do I need a guide for writing groups for?

Probably because I write sentences such as “So what on earth do I need a guide for writing groups for?”.

Taylor, the author of the book, is involved in three writing groups. THREE. Well, maybe I shouldn’t be too impressed. I’m technically involved in four. But her groups have huge amounts of success in getting their members published, either traditionally published books or articles for magazines. I can’t honestly tout that kind of success…yet.

But maybe we will.

The book got me thinking quite a lot about how to be a stronger and more supportive coordinator for writing groups. And how writing groups can develop stronger and more supportive membership.

The number one take-away I had from The Complete Guide to Writers Groups That Work was understanding the true purpose of a writers group. Some people feel the purpose is to get your book ready for publishing. Others feel it makes one a better writer. Still others argue writers groups are a professional way to interact and be social with other writers. All of these are true. My writing groups have helped me more than I could ever imagine. I am such a different (in a good way) writer than before my critiques and feedback sessions, I don’t recognize my early works anymore. But I missed the true and unique purpose of writing groups.

They help us grow in confidence as writers and as storytellers.

Sharing your work is scary. But if you are hoping to publish your story, it is something you will eventually have to get over. But I understand. Your writing is a part of your soul. What if no one likes your work? What does that say about you?

Being in a group is discovering a safe place to ease into the world of critiques and editor feedback. The key word is “ease”. Editors are not going to be gentle with your work, so you will need to build confidence and backbone to take on criticism without killing your motivation.

Writers groups are designed to be motivating, encouraging, and most important- HELPFUL. They are not meant to be harsh or cruel. That’s the rest of the world’s job.

I’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating. Incessantly if necessary. When giving constructive feedback on a piece of work submitted for critique, use the Constructive Feedback Sandwich method. Say something positive first. This is the top slice of bread. The fillings are each piece of constructive criticism you have. There may be some meat, which might be the most glaring issue you had while reading. Some condiments which are suggestions to add some spice and flavor to the story. But to complete the sandwich, you need one more slice of bread, which is something positive again.

It will look or sound like this:

“This is a powerful story. I can see great potential within the pages. You really grabbed my attention at the beginning, which is always a good start.

I did find the section where the two characters meet for the first time to be rushed, and without visual details. I don’t even know what Maria and Tony look like. Let me be able to visualize them.

You describe Maria as an animal lover. But you have a hard time demonstrating how much she knows about animals in just the biology class. What would you think about adding a scene at a zoo where Maria impresses Tony with her knowledge of all the animals he’s never heard of before? I think it would give a better glimpse into both Maria and Tony’s personality and just have a little fun, too.

I love the interactions between Tony and Maria. I love how you showcase their disdain for each other and their gradual affection and admiration toward the other. I can’t wait to read more, and see where their relationship goes. Thanks so much for sharing.”

I rarely like stealing from books verbatim, but Taylor gave me such a great gift in The Complete Guide to Writers Groups That Work, I am going to share with you her Top Ten Tips for Successful Critiques. I’ll admit, she probably nabbed my focus and attention because it was a list. And most people in my writing groups know how I feel about lists. But her list is also short and concise, so it is difficult to even paraphrase. But they are pertinent. Things we strive to employ at all the groups that meet-up around the Island.

  1. Cultivate Positive Power- Look for the good. Focus on the positive of each story or essay.
  2. Smile- Don’t just say something positive first. Say something positive with a genuine smile. Our words and actions are affected by our mood, and smiling (even if you think you’re faking it) changes our mood.
  3. Walk a Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes- Looking at situations from other perspectives can change the whole game and helps understanding between parties.
  4. Remember: What Goes Around Comes Around- Be supportive and encouraging. Treat your group members as you would like to be treated. You’ll be glad when it’s your turn.
  5. Leave Negativity Out of It- Even if you’ve had the worst day in the history of bad days, don’t take it out on your group members. You’ll be surprised how much better you feel by lifting someone up. Tearing someone down won’t help your day get better.
  6. Focus on the Goal- Don’t give up on yourself, or anyone else. If it requires extra effort, it may be worth it and can make all the difference in the world.
  7. Ask For Help- Please don’t assume your members know what you need. You must ask for what it is you want.
  8. Be a Team Player- Respect everyone’s opinion.
  9. Go the Extra Mile- When asked for assistance, be willing to help out, if you are able to. You never know when you will be the one who needs help.
  10. Be There- Come to group sessions and be present in the sessions. Groups work better when everyone is together, physically and mentally.

If you are struggling to make progress in your writing, or with any project you are working, bring it to our writers groups. Let North Sound Writers live up to its mission of helping you succeed.

We meet several times a month to give feedback-

2nd and 4th Saturdays of every month at Sweet Rice in Oak Harbor on Pioneer Way starting at 6pm.

1st Wednesday of every month at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland off Hwy 525 at 1pm

4th Sunday of every month at Coupeville Library at 1 pm

As we grow, so will our offerings and types of groups. Join us at our meet-ups and join our membership to see your writing take off. Help North Sound Writers be one of those great success stories.




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