How to Start a Local Writing Group

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I’m the organizer for the Yukon Writers’ Society in Yukon, Oklahoma. Two Thursdays out of the month, we meet to learn about the craft of fiction writing, to hold each other accountable in our writing, and to practice what we’ve learned through writing exercises. Through this group, I’ve found longtime friends, constant encouragement, and the push I needed to finish my first novel, The Suicide Tree. If you aren’t a member of a writers’ group, then you must start one. It has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my writing career.

Today, I’d like to walk you through the same process I used to start (or in my specific case, to take over) a local writers’ group.

1. Choose the group’s objective and goals.

Our goals have changed as we’ve grown, but our objective has always stayed the same: to provide an encouraging, supportive group for fiction writers as well as helping beginning writers hone their skills through critiques. Notice that we are geared toward fiction writers—you’ll have to decide how niche you want your group to be.

Our goals are to:

  • Attend biweekly Meetups in Yukon
  • Form an encouraging critique group
  • Help group members start and finish their books and/or stories
  • Create a tight-knit community of serious writers who want to publish their books
  • Build a support team online when we aren't at meetings
  • Embrace accountability
  • Learn more about the craft of writing and apply it to our weekly writing goals
  • Attend workshops on writing, marketing, and publishing

What will your group’s goals be? Take a look at other writing groups and see what theirs are. Do some research and brainstorming! And remember: it’ll change as your group evolves.

2. Pick a place for each workshop.

Originally, our group bounced between the local coffee shop and the local library. As we grew, we couldn’t quite fit at the coffee shop anymore. For most of 2018, all workshops have taken place at our library. This is why becoming a nonprofit is important: we don’t have to pay to use the library’s conference room. (More on becoming a nonprofit on #11.)

Now, however, we’re too big for the library conference room! Thankfully, a local church has welcomed us with open arms to use their conference room (for free). Find out where you can meet, but starting with the library will probably be easiest.

3. Select the day of the week to meet as well as frequency.

We meet two Thursdays out of the month. I don’t recommend meeting on Friday nights—everyone is out and about on the weekend—or on Monday nights, because, well, #CaseOfTheMondays.

Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays seem to be good weekdays for meeting.

Some groups will meet every week, while some only meet once a month. You have to decide what works best for you and your objectives. Twice a month seems to be the perfect balance for our group.

4. Write membership rules and decide on membership fees.

Our membership rules are quite simple. Every new member should be asked to read them, and maybe once a quarter, just go over the rules again in a workshop. Check out our rules for some brainstorming:

  • Cell phones are allowed during workshops but must be silenced. We ask that members not accept phone calls during the workshop unless it’s an emergency. We only get one night every two weeks to be together and focus on writing, so let’s make it count.
  • While networking is a huge bonus of being in a writers’ group, it is not the main focus. Please keep self-promotion to a minimum.
  • This is not a place to sell your published books. When we have longer workshops (such as conferences), then we will have a table to showcase your work.
  • If you do not like or support a certain activity during the workshop or when discussing future workshops, please hold your peace and discuss after the workshop with the organizer or trustees (Shayla, Oren, Gary, or Janey).
  • We welcome writers of all experience levels; however, our goal is to take aspiring fiction writers and lead them along the way to a successful life as an author. We want to help beginners.
  • Be kind and encouraging to one another.
  • When someone is presenting a session, please be courteous and respectful of their time.
  • If a member feels as though he or she cannot follow these rules, he or she will be asked to leave.

Our group has no membership fees, but our two conferences of the year have a fee. Since we published our anthology, Shivers in the Night, in April 2018, we use those profits to keep us afloat as well. I will say this: if you want to do membership fees, really think that through. It gets messy and it’s so much easier to provide a free writing group to the community—because then, they’ll attend the bigger events you have and you’ll make more money that way, rather than charging a yearly fee of, say, $30. Another issue with charging membership fees is: not everyone will join at the beginning of the year; you’ll have people pop in throughout the whole year.

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5. Plan your first few workshop topics.

If you look at #9, you’ll see that the first workshop will be a brainstorming session, but you need to take the reins here and figure out what the first few workshops should be. Here’s a list of some of the workshops we’ve done in 2018 to help you brainstorm:

  • Time Management for Writers
  • Punching Writer’s Block in the Face
  • Point of View How-To
  • Writing Wickedly Good Villains
  • Very Simple Solutions for Vivid Descriptions
  • What’s My Genre?
  • The Business of Writing (all-day workshop on a Saturday)
  • Self-Publishing on Amazon
  • Story Structure
  • Edit Yourself
  • The Great Debate: Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing
  • Bridging the Gap
  • Let’s Talk Body Language
  • Avoid Cliches Like the Plague
  • Start Your New Year with Accountability

Note that our workshops include handouts, quizzes, writing exercise time, informational slides (by use of the TV and laptop), and anything else that helps to keep our members intrigued. For example, when I taught on Edit Yourself, I used the TV to go through my notes so they could see my examples and then gave them a quiz at the end to see if they could practice what they learned. I also threw candy at them when they got the question right.

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6. Connect with an online platform so members can RSVP and learn more.

We used Meetup as our platform since our group’s inception. However, this summer, we got a website and now members RSVP straight on the website. You can definitely use Meetup to get you started, but it costs $19.99/month if you’re an organizer and it has quite a lot of tech issues on the app and desktop. In fact, that was a main reason I suggested we leave Meetup: too many members had issues using it.

You could keep it simple and do a Facebook group and use Facebook events for people to RSVP if you’d like. But consider a website in the future.

7. Invite people to attend.

I posted the Meetup link into local Facebook groups, and people would RSVP via the link that way. I still use this method, but with website links now. That was one of the main ways I grew the group; however, Meetup helped in getting the word out about our group as well. Realize that by staying consistent with this, your group will grow through word of mouth. Our first official workshop had four people. Last workshop? Twenty.

8. Advertise your workshops on social media.

If you create a Facebook page for your group, like we did, then you can use just $5 or $10 and advertise the upcoming workshop specifically to people in your town. You would be using your own money up front for this, but it’s worth it in my opinion. As your group grows, then you can use the nonprofit bank account to pay for advertising. (More on this on #13.)

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9. Use your first workshop as a brainstorming session.

Take this time to get to know the new members and ask them what they expect from the group, what they need help with, and what they’d like to learn. Take lots of notes and apply these ideas to upcoming workshops.

10. Listen to your members’ thoughts.

I know this seems redundant, but really: you need to listen as an organizer and hear what these writers need. Are they scared of doing the critiques? Are they so brand new to writing that they need some hand-holding? Are they looking for accountability as well as knowledge?

11. Get legal and become a nonprofit.

Here’s how I did it:

Go to your Secretary of State website and find the form for Certificate of Incorporation: (“State” Not for Profit Corporation). It’s possible yours will say something slightly different, but all you need it to find the one for “associations, companies, corporations, clubs, foundations, societies, etc.” You’re a club, so that’s the form you’ll want.

Print it, fill it out, and take the paperwork to three members you want as trustees for their signatures. See below.

12. Choose three trustees for your nonprofit paperwork.

This will happen naturally. As more members get involved, you’ll figure out quite quickly who you can trust. These three people will be the ones you lean on throughout the rest of the group’s life. Choose wisely.

Have them sign the form, then mail in the form with a check for $25. Wait for your certificate!

 
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13. Open a bank account.

Now that you’re a nonprofit, you need a checking account. If you host all-day workshops or conferences, you’ll make some money and it needs a home. Not your bank account! A bank account specifically for a nonprofit. Same goes for publishing books together (like an anthology). You’ll also need this account to buy things for the workshops and conferences. Save those receipts!

14. Think of the future of your group.

I’m in love with big ideas. I like to daydream about how big I can make something. If that’s not you, then trust me, one of the trustees will be this way. Someone needs to think about the growth of the group. How big do you want to get? Where do you see the group in one year? Two? Five? How can you reach those goals?

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15. Plan bigger events, such as all-day workshops, conferences, dinners, and/or retreats.

The three trustees of the Yukon Writers’ Society (Oren, Gary, and Janey) quickly became close friends of mine. I’d be lost without them. Because we’ve bonded over the last year, we have our own little meetings at my house or at a restaurant to discuss bigger events. For example, we had hosted two all-day workshops on Saturdays in the last year; but we decided to take it to a new level and created a conference called Writer Olympics, which is set for Saturday, October 6, 2018. Other things we have planned? A podcast, a retreat in April, and a costume party.

Bonus Tip:

Who’s going to speak at all these workshops? Well, it was me in the beginning. I handled each workshop until I realized how knowledgeable Oren was about writing. He started teaching workshops, and it was amazing! Now we both switch on and off, and we have guest speakers. For example, at our workshop tomorrow, we’ll have author and speaker Mariana Llanos teach us about diversity in writing. Again, these things will happen naturally, but realize it’s on you at first, baby!


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An expert editor, seasoned writer, and author-centric marketer, Shayla Raquel works one-on-one with authors and business owners every day. A lifelong lover of books, she has edited over 300 books and has launched several Amazon bestsellers for her clients. Her award-winning blog teaches new and established authors how to write, publish, and market their books. She is the author of the Pre-Publishing Checklist, The Rotting (in Shivers in the Night), and her novel-in-progress, The Suicide Tree. She lives in Oklahoma with her two dogs, Chanel and Wednesday.