So what does a typical writers’ group look like? I guess it comprises regular meetings and the chance for members to read their current scribblings and then to get a critique from other members.
Certainly that’s how the writers’ group I belong to started, but over time we built some formality into the groups’ workings by
publishing an annual calendar of what each session (we met and still meet twice a month) would look like and varying the activities.
So the first meeting in the month would be what we described as a manuscript evening when members could bring along current work to read and to get feedback.
The second meeting in the month was themed to encourage members to write something which perhaps they wouldn’t normally tackle, perhaps well outside their comfort zones. Here are some examples of theme night topics:
• “A tipsy night out” – interpret freely with a maximum of 1,000 words.
• Write up to 750 words on the most embarrassing experience you have ever had.
• Write up to 1,000 words beginning with, “I turned over and shaded my eyes from the bright sunlight.”
• Write a poem (up to 40 lines) and a piece of flash fiction (up to 100 words) entitled “Stranger things have happened.”
• Pick one of the following song titles and write a short piece of up to 750 words or a poem of up to 40 lines:
• What is it about men?
• There’s always someone waiting
• Nice work if you can get it
• My favourite game
• Write a script of up to 500 words basing the characters on a TV soap opera of your choice.
• Members were sent a photo in advance and the task was “write a short piece of fiction or a poem inspired by the photo.”
What we didn’t do was to insist that members tackled the themed topic. If they wished still to bring along any other writing they were able to do so. The themed topics were just to give a focus to members if they were not working on a current writing topic.
After a time we then introduced a couple of internal competitions in the year. A topic or title would be chosen and members would submit an anonymised entry at the start of the meeting. The entries would then be read out twice, once in a male voice once in a female voice, and members had to judge each entry. The winner on the night would receive a small prize (normally some sort of booze, which says a lot about the group)!
OK. So from a fixed format of members reading and receiving a critique, we had varied the activities to bring a little more life to the group. Is variety the “spice of life”? You could argue that manuscript nights, themed nights and competitions were enough, but we added other activities too.
Our funds had built up from both members’ subscriptions and the surpluses from an open competition we ran. Some of the funds we then used to do two things:
• Pay for a speaker or speakers to come along to an evening session – normally this would be either a local writing dignitary who had been published and talked about their writing history and/or the route to being published, or a local writer who ran a session on a particular writing topic, e.g. dialogue.
• Act as guarantor for full day workshops we ran. Again we would get in a local writer to instruct the attendees in a particular writing skill area. So we had, for example, writing for women’s magazines, a poetry workshop (I remember this most by being introduced to a form of poetry I’d not heard on – the cancrizan), writing crime fiction and writing non-fiction.
Another activity we got involved with, although mainly outside the meetings was to create an anthology of members’ work. We coupled this with additional workshops we wished to run and was fortunate to get a small grant from the Arts Council for these activities.
There is one more activity which I personally really liked and that was an event we called, “Widening the Circle”. Basically we invited another couple of writers’ groups to come along one evening. We had a set format – each group would give a potted history and tell the others how the group was formed, some key points in the group’s history, etc. and this was then followed by a selection of readings from group members. We put on some refreshments and a jolly good time was had by all. I can well recommend this. Not only did we find out about the other groups and hear some of their members’ work, but we forged a link with other writers. We also learned from others and took note of the activities they engaged in.
So here it is. I feel strongly that to inject some variety in the activities a writing group gets up to is a good thing and keeps things fresh.
We would love to hear from you about how your writing group conducts its business. What is the format of your meetings and what are the “spicy” activities the group gets up to? I’m sure you will have some good suggestions for us all.