Writing Group Rules

by Audrey Owen

Writing group rules for a writers' group is important. Whether the group will meet for only one session or for life, the group will be more productive if everyone understands how the group works.

Here are some things to consider as you decide on the rules.

What is the purpose of the group?
Groups meet for a variety of reasons. It's best to be clear what a particular group is meant to accomplish.
  • Critique
  • Writing practice
  • Marketing information
  • Guest speaker
Is someone in charge? Some groups have a stated leader. The leader may charge a fee. Other groups rotate the responsibility of being the leader. Still others have no stated leader. Which format you choose will depend on your situation.

What is the cost?
Some groups pay fees to rent a facility. Others pay a leader. Any fees and how they are collected should be clearly stated up front.

Will there be refreshments?
Food can bring a group together or steal time from the business at hand. Each group has to make its own decision about what, if anything, to eat or drink.

It is often best to have special meetings at intervals where the main business is social while leaving the regular group meetings for discussion.

What is the timetable?
Groups work best when there is a predictable format for the meetings. Does everyone get equal time? In what order do you cover topics?

No matter what the timetable, stick to it. If your group is advertised as being 90 minutes, people will be annoyed if it lasts for two hours.

When the group critiques writing, how will the work be presented?
People may read their own work aloud, or hand out copies for others to read quietly. Work can be handed out in advance, or given out on the spot.

How will critique be given and received?
It should go without saying that put-downs are out of place in a writing group. But do say that in your writing group rules. And then enforce the rule.

Consider whether you want a free for all, or whether you will take turns. Consider, too, whether the writer will respond to critique.

One way to structure a writing group is to allow those who offer critique to focus on three things.
  1. What works
  2. What could be better
  3. Questions about the text (Answering is optional)
It's best if critique is specific rather than general.

How big will the group be?
A group of 2 may work well, and a lecture hall where smaller groups form for discussion may work well. Your rules should give some indication of how large the group will be.

The rules should also explain how new members will join. Can anyone just show up? Will new members need an invitation? If someone breaks the rules, what happens?

Write out the rules and make sure everyone has a copy. Review the rules from time to time. You may want to change something. If you don't want to change anything, reviewing the rules still helps the group to stay focused.

I strongly recommend that writers find others writers who offer mutual support and advice. When the time comes for you to seek out an editor, consider my sample edit.

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