Canada Writes

5 tips for running a successful writing group

Ready to share your work with others? Fiction writer Sharon Overend highlights the characteristics of a good writing group.
A writing group can help you take your work to the next level. (Rawpixel on Unsplash)

A writing circle can be a writer's best friend, but the wrong group can do more harm than good. After years of participating in different writing circles, fiction writer Sharon Overend has learned a thing or two about the keys to a successful critique group.

CBC Books asked Overend, whose short story Step Away was nominated for the Journey Prize in 2014, for her top tips about running a successful writing group.

Sharon Overend is an award-winning short story writer. (The Rights Factory)

1. Define your intentions

Sharon says: "Do you want to write something to share in a family gathering or something that Oprah is going to be interested in putting in her book club? Knowing your intentions will not only affect the level of critiquing but will determine who you are going to invite into the group and how you're going to go forward."

2. Have clear expectations

Sharon says: "It's good for the group to have guidelines with details like expectations and a mandate. It doesn't have to be complicated, but it should include things like how often you will submit, word counts, how many people will submit in a week and what level of critiquing people are interested in. Groups should be there to help someone improve their writing, not to run them down. It's important that when people join or when you're forming a group there are clear expectations about what you want and what they want to get from the group."

3. Focus on the writing

Sharon says: "The focus of every meeting must be on the writing. I've been in groups where people have put something really powerful and meaningful to them on paper, but the writing might not be great. Whenever I see something like that, I always say to the author, 'I'm critiquing your writing not what you're writing about.' If a work makes it to the group and someone takes issue with an opinion, the focus has to remain on the writing."

4. Don't take it personally

Sharon says: "The only objective of critique is to help the writer improve their writing skills. It has to be focused on the writing — the sentences, pacing, structure and syntax — all of that. The writer should just listen and not defend. It's difficult to give honest feedback to someone who's constantly defending themselves. You don't have to accept what is suggested, just listen."

5. Foster trust

Sharon says: "The most important ingredient in a successful writing group is trust. You have to be a group of people who trust each other and know that the focus is going to be on the writing. They're going to celebrate your successes, kick you in the butt when you're not producing to the level that they all know that you can, keep you focused and help you with your writing. If you can get all of those combined together, a writing circle can become your safe place and a fantastic place to grow and learn."

Sharon Overend's comments have been edited and condensed.


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