Guidelines for Starting and Facilitating a Writers' Group...
We've been asked by other groups and by members who move from Austin how to have a long-running and successful writers' group like the SlugTribe. Here are some of the elements we brainstormed on what helped make the SlugTribe succeed.
Ways to Drive Attendance
- Assign a single contact for more info, and it must be someone who checks email regularly.
- Post notices at places where writers and readers hang out: in libraries, colleges, bookstores, at workshops.
- Find your local writers association (such as the Writers League) and give them information about meeting times and locations.
- Meet regularly at the same time and same place. Make it as central as possible in a safe part of town. In Austin, public library branches have meeting rooms that are free for use, for example. Even the clubhouse of an apartment building can be a good place. What's typically not good is one person's home, especially if they have pets who can cause allergy problems (reasons: the group is dependant on that person being well, not traveling and always having a home ready to share with no kiddos watching TV loudly in the next room).
- Get a free YahooGroups listing and religiously collect emails from new attendees. Put the members in the Yahoo list. Set up the YahooGroups calendar to send automatic reminders about the meetings. Alternatively, many organizations who sell & host web domains include email list management as a feature. For the SlugTribe, Earl Cooley has managed our listserver on his own domain. No ads!
- Pool your funds and buy a domain and a cheap hosting service and put up a Website, much like this one.
Ways to Encourage Participation
- Create reward systems for various types of effort. In the SlugTribe, Jennifer has a bag of lizards and scifi stickers. Bringing a manuscript for the night gets a sticker. Submitted a manuscript to a market gets a small lizard. Selling a story/novel gets a large lizard. Three lizards can be traded up for a large lizard. ...etc.
- Be aware that submitting manuscripts to markets or agents is the weakest spot for almost all beginning writers (even experienced ones). Share market news, in person or online.
- Be nice! Not overly warm and fuzzy so that no critique work gets done, but supportive. Tell writers what was good or amusing or surprising in their stories. Sometimes it's useful to recap or do a single-sentence synopsis of what you think the story was about.
- Use good etiquette in critique (SlugTribe suggestions on etiquette covered on its own page).
- Borrow or create rules of order or etiquette and disseminate them regularly. If you choose Milford Style, set maximum times for critique to give everyone a chance. If you choose a free-for-all-discussion type of critique, politely prevent one member from hogging the conversation. Don't allow an over-enthusiastic member to interrupt an on-going critique.
- Celebrate each other's wins and commiserate on each other's losses,
- A famous SF/F writer from Oregon visited and insisted that critiques not only point out problems and confusions, but should be directive on what the author should do to fix them. Don't believe that myself (says Wendy) but adding it here since new members might come in thinking that's what they need, or being focused on giving others directions. Think about how to handle...