How to Start a Successful Writers’ Workshop
When you get down to the heart of it, writing is a solitary pursuit. However, many of us writers don’t enjoy being holed up alone all day in our bedrooms, typing away on our computers.
Most of us seek the friendship, as well as the feedback and critique, that being part of a group of writers can offer. That’s where local writers’ workshops come in.
A question that I am often asked is how I started my writing group, “The Pasadena Writers’ Collective.” People want to know how I got the group off the ground and was able to find members to join it. There are a few ways to go about starting your own writing group, but here are my suggestions:
1. Decide what kind of group you want. Do you want an intimate weekly workshop with a small group of regulars, or do you want a larger group that meets once or twice a month on a more casual basis?
2. Choose what kind of writing you want the group to focus on. There are many successful writing groups that focus on a single genre. If all you write is fiction, you might want to start a workshop specifically for fiction writers. If you’re interested in all kinds of writing, you can leave it open to all genres.
3. Once you’ve decided on the type of group you want to start, you have to know how to find members. I highly recommend the site http://meetup.com. That’s where I started “The Pasadena Writers’ Collective.” The great thing about meetup.com is that there’s already a huge built-in community of people looking for a group like yours. When you create a group, the announcement is automatically mailed out to thousands of people who have expressed an interest in finding writing groups in your area.
While it’s free to be a member of meetup.com and join groups, group organizers are actually the ones who have to pay fees. It costs about $15/month to host your group on the site. I have seen people temporarily create a group using the free trial who then moved it off the site once they got some members. I hosted my workshop on the site for an entire year before deciding to move it over to a free host, but that was only once I had a solid group of regulars. The site I use now, Qlubb.com, is great for posting events and keeping members up to date once you have an established group.
If you aren’t interested in meetup.com, there are always other ways to find members. Craigslist can be a good place to start. I also recommend the old fashioned method of posting fliers around local cafés and colleges.
4. Find a meeting place. Many libraries offer a meeting room for free to groups that don’t require any sort of membership fee. Local cafés and restaurants can also be good places to have meetings as long as they aren’t too noisy or crowded. My group meets at a Panera Bread Co., which is perfect for us because there’s always seating available and people can buy food if they get hungry. Scope out some potential locations and make some phone calls to find your perfect space. You always have the option to host the group at your house, but I personally wouldn’t suggest doing that unless you already know all of your group members and feel comfortable having them in your home.
5. Finally, figure out how you want your meetings to run. I recommend making a handout for your members with workshop and critique guidelines. Decide whether you want people to bring in work to the meetings or have a schedule for members to give out their work ahead of time to be critiqued at the next meeting. Make sure you specify any page limits or formatting rules you’d like to have them follow.
Be prepared to be the mediator and leader of your group. You’ll be the one responsible for setting the tone and atmosphere of the workshop, and it’s up to you to find a structure and rhythm for your group that works for you.
It might seem overwhelming at first, but starting a writers’ workshop really isn’t difficult. Just make sure you have the time to devote to doing it right. It may take a couple of months to get a steady group of members in attendance, but don’t get discouraged. Once you get your writing group going, it really is an incredibly meaningful and enjoyable experience. I’ve made some wonderful friends and have received so much invaluable critique on my work. Best of all, it gets me out of the house and away from my computer for a few hours every week.
Editor’s Note: Don’t miss Alana’s follow-up piece, How to Run a Successful Writers’ Workshop.
About the Author: Alana Saltz is a freelance writer, editor, and creative writing instructor living in sunny Los Angeles, CA. She has had work published in several literary magazines and is currently an MFA in Writing candidate at Vermont College of Fine Arts. You can visit her website at http://alanasaltz.com.