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How to…start a writing group

Written by Iain Rowan

Being in a writers’ group is one of the most inspiring things you can do. You feel like you’re not alone, and you get support, inspiration and advice from other people who know what you’re struggling with, or proud of. It’s also (almost) free to set up and all you need is a couple of like-minded people to get going. If you want to give it a go, Iain Rowan, founder of Holmeside Writers in Sunderland, gives us some words of advice.

We set up Holmeside Writers in Sunderland at the start of 2014, with the thought that if three or four people turned up, it would be a success. Eleven people walked in that night, and the group’s gone from strength to strength since then. We now meet twice a month, and we’ve had exciting speakers in to lead workshops on performance poetry and writing drama. We’ve run workshops on themes like radio drama, character, writing short plays, and writing effective dialogue.

We don’t just talk about it though – in the sessions on plays and radio drama, for example, we sat down and wrote some. A short film has been made by one of our group of a story written in a meeting by another member, another film is in the final stages of editing after the screenplay was discussed in the group, and a third film is planned for this summer. We’re writing radio drama for an exciting project within the city, and have made some great contacts with other creative people.

So, the possibilities for a writing group are huge. Here’s how to get started.


1. Break the ice
It can all feel a bit awkward at first, so break the ice with some fun exercises. Start off with a writing prompt, get everyone there to complete it in no more than a line, and then go round the group with everyone sharing.

Some examples:

‘I have an amazing secret, and it’s…’ or ‘two people are sitting on a bench. One turns to the other and says “You know, I’ve always wanted to say this to you…”’

What makes someone a writer? They write. It’s great to share experiences and knowledge in a group, great to have speakers come along to talk to you…but make sure you set aside some time to write. It can be inspiring to have everyone work away for 20 minutes and then to share what’s worked well, what they’re struggling with, and to get feedback on ideas.

3. Learn to critique
One of the most useful things you can do in a writers’ group is critiquing or ‘critting’ – sharing work with the group and giving each other helpful feedback. Agree when people will share work (it’s best to do this before the meeting, so everyone has a chance to read and think about it), and set aside some of the meeting to discuss it. The brave can even read theirs out loud. You can find some advice on how to make this process less scary and more productive [insert link on how to critique].

4. Create a focus
You can give a meeting some focus by choosing a theme to explore. Then you can look at useful advice on the topic, and focus the writing exercises around the theme.

For example, you could explore writing dialogue by thinking about what makes good dialogue, and then exploring writing conversations between characters and reading them out loud. Or you could think about how to structure stories by writing flash (very short) fiction, which includes a beginning, middle, and end in just a few words.

5. Use social media
A writers’ group doesn’t just have to exist in the time when you’re all face-to-face. Think about creating a social space online, where people can post work or share links to competitions and opportunities or interesting stories and articles they’ve seen elsewhere. Something like that can make it feel like the group’s meeting every day, and that you’re all part of a community.

Good luck, and keep writing.

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