A few people have asked me about this recently so I thought I’d write a blog post. Eighteen months ago I set up Coulsdon Writers’ Group in Surrey.
1. What function do you want the group to serve?
Writers’ groups can take many forms. The main ones are that the group: a) meets to read (or reads out) work on the day, b) meets to critique work that has been shared for reading at an earlier date, c) meets to write. I wanted a group where we met to write together, and then shared our work. I now find that what is more useful is to get some feedback on my writing, and prefer b). It is also worth considering whether you want to socialise with members. Conversation during our meetings was focussed around our writing pieces, so I always suggested going for coffee after the group finished. This quickly became a routine, and often lasted as long as the session itself. It can have implications, both positive and negative: it can help the group to bond and to trust each other, and friendships can develop around a shared interest; cliques can form.
2. Where will the group meet?
Depending on what the group is going to do, you will probably need a venue which is quiet. This may involve paying for hire. Possibilities are: library, village hall, church hall, café, arts centre, community centre, someone’s house. To start with I arranged for us to meet at our local library. This worked well in many respects for the library and the group, and felt ‘right’. In exchange for free space once a week, I ran some events for them. But it was busy and noisy at times, and we had to vacate in the summer for children’s events. It is worth considering whether you want tables and chairs, or just chairs. Other considerations are whether there’s a loo.
3. Are you going to charge, and if so, what for?
Depending on whether the group has to pay for venue hire, and what is being offered, this will need to be considered. There is work involved in running a group and there are costs attached to it too. I funded the group’s website (and designed it, created all the content & updated it), and set up a blog, Facebook page and Twitter account. I also designed, printed and regularly distributed leaflets to promote the group. You may feel that this warrants charging for attendance at group meetings. If you offer some instruction and informed feedback, the same. I was clear that I didn’t want to charge members for anything as long as our venue was free. At one point we had to move venue, and they charged us £1 each to use their facilities. I collected this and handed it over. Every week I put together a set of writing prompts to help people get started. I printed these out and distributed them but didn’t charge for them. I’m sure some people do.
4. How will you manage the group?
I was advised by one group organiser that we would need a constitution and a committee, both of which made me want to run for the hills as it reminded me of school and work. I think that a group needs to have a leader, as decisions will need to be made. Also, people will contact the group and will need the name of the person who runs the group. It’s possible to get views on important issues and then take an executive decision on the basis of majority views. Inevitably conflict will emerge at some point. People will decide they don’t like the way things are done. People will try and take over or may attempt to sabotage the group, and gossiping may occur. Having been a teacher for 10 years, I was clear about my own boundaries and how I would manage these things if they occurred. We were quite lucky and only had to contend with a couple of people not liking the format of meetings, and they toddled off. I have known groups have terrible problems so it is worth considering. You also may want to consider whether you will have a formal membership process and a published list of members. I wanted things to be as informal as possible as I didn’t want to be ‘teacher’.
5. When will the group meet and how long will sessions be?
The considerations here are: i) day ii) time and iii) meeting frequency. No day or time will suit everyone. Daytimes won’t suit full-time workers; evenings won’t suit parents. Afternoons clash with collecting children from school. I worked on the basis of a majority preference. Attendance numbers do vary, and often grow quickly. In the spring and summer, they seem to plummet. Most groups seem to meet for two hours. You might want to consider whether you’re going to have a break. We met for two hours once a week. When the numbers got larger than the library was able to accommodate, I ran the group twice a week. One session was in the morning and one was in the afternoon.
If anyone has any specific questions which aren’t covered here, please feel free to e-mail me.
Vicky Newham © 2013