How to Run a Writing Group: A Proven System to Keep Feedback Positive and Helpful

Are you tired of going it alone as a writer? Joining or starting a writing group is a wonderful way to build community and improve your writing skills.

But beware. For every good experience of participating in a writing group, there are ten horror stories. Too many times unclear goals, personal egos, and loose structure lead to hurt feelings, unproductive meetings, and breakdowns in relationships.

Worst of all, it doesn’t actually improve your writing!

In this article you will learn the systems we use in our Guild Editor Mentorship program to keep the writing feedback positive and helpful so it enables writers to reach their goals.

How to Run a Writing Group

What are the Benefits of a Writing Group?

Why bother with a writing group? It’s a hassle to find meeting times, share your writing, and deal with other introvert’s personalities when we would all rather be curled up at home with a good book.

However, we at Story Grid think it’s worth the effort.

There are three main benefits to participating in a writing group.

1. Makes the Writing Process More Enjoyable

Writing is a lonely process. It requires you to sit alone in front of a keyboard tapping away.

This loneliness often leads us to focus on the negative. We often get stuck spiraling in our head, frustrated with both the process and the results.

By meeting regularly with a group of other writers, we often get a truer sense of our place and progress. We have others cheering on our wins, mourning our losses, and reminding us of our progress along the way.

Non-writers do not understand what it means to pursue the art of writing. By regularly meeting with other writers, it eases our loneliness and reminds us why we pursue this noble goal.

2. Creates Accountability

We’ve all been there. 

We miss a day of writing. Then two. Then a week. Then we turn around and realize it’s been five months since we’ve written anything more than an email or tweet.

By committing to a writing group, we stay engaged so we can turn in our work before each meeting. Additionally, the added pressure of regularly sharing our work with peers will keep us sharp and pursuing excellence.

3. Improves Writing Skills

Adding outside perspectives to our writing allows us to get helpful feedback (if it’s done correctly—more on this below) that we could not generate on our own. 

This type of group workshopping will unlock ideas we didn’t know we had. Often, it won’t be any exact idea that someone shared, rather, their ideas will spark our own creativity.

These types of communities increase our creativity and drive us to stay engaged with the work.

The Rules for a Writing Group

In order for a writing group to stay helpful and positive, we have found it’s important to establish a set of rules for all participants to agree to and follow.

Rule 0: Abide by the Basics

These are the obvious bits. 

Show up to meetings on time or communicate in advance if you are unable to attend. Share your drafts in the agreed format. Check the ego at the door. If you find yourself getting defensive or upset, take a break to calm down before reengaging. 

Focus on making the experience positive for all involved. 

Rule 1: Choose a Common Curriculum

Choose a book, topic, or training to work through together. We, of course, recommend the Story Grid Guild training.

This provides a common structure and goal for our work together in the group. Each week we are focused on a particular skill set. Perhaps it’s dialogue or fight scenes or context description.

By focusing on a common curriculum, we tend to offer and receive feedback that is clear and focused instead of random..

Rule 2: Focus on the Iterative Practice of Skills and Concepts over Finishing a Work-in-Progress

If all of the participants are submitting their work-in-progress for feedback, it causes two main problems:

  1. The writer is emotionally attached to the work because they are working towards a final publishable piece. Instead, by working on small bits focused on the concepts from the common curriculum, it is much easier to cut, rewrite, and throw way.
  2. All the participants are at different places in their story. This makes it impossible to focus on a common concept or skill.

Instead, each week write or edit drafts that are created for the sole purpose of practicing the current concept or skill and getting feedback from the group. This will allow us to let go of attachment to our writing and be quick to accept and apply feedback.

The goal of the writing group is skill acquisition and leveling up our writing instead of finishing a work-in-progress.

Rule 3: Meet Weekly

Scheduling a week between meetings allows for time to study and practice the concepts and skills while not letting too much time pass before getting feedback.

Here is how the weekly meetings should be run.

  1. Have one person review the topic from the previous week and the goals for the week’s practice writing.
  2. Each person gets a set amount of time (5-10 minutes depending on the number of participants) to receive feedback from the group on their writing sample. Feedback should follow the guidelines for HOW TO GIVE GOOD FEEDBACK.

In our Guild Editor Mentorship program, since each writer gets one-on-one feedback with their Editor Mentor each week, we spend the group time deep diving into one participant’s iteration for the week. This allows us to dig deep and learn more as a group.

  1. Once all the feedback has been given, move to the topic for the week.
  2. Discuss the topic until there is common understanding. Talk about what isn’t clear and try to build a shared understanding of the concepts and goals before moving forward.
  3. Each writer should identify which aspects of the concept are most interesting and exciting to them. Every participant should share specific skills they are looking to improve in their writing.
  4. Harvest the meaning from the discussion and set an intention on how each person will practice the concepts in their writing over the coming week.

Start Your Own Writing Group

When done correctly, a writing group can be a source of great support for you as a writer while also helping you develop new skills to level up your ability.

Gather three to five people together and start meeting weekly and working together toward your common goal.

Join the Guild Editor Mentorship

Writing feedback and weekly groups are a huge part of the Guild Editor Mentorship Program. Here’s what are current students have to say:

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