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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Platinum Rule for Effective Writer’s Groups

In a recent comment, Teresa asked how to form an ideal writer’s group. I made recommendations in my last post, but it really comes down to the Platinum Rule.

Everyone knows the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But do you know the Platinum Rule?

Do unto others as they would have you do unto them. In other words, don’t give another writer the kind of responses you want; give them what they want and need.

We tend to give others what we want to get ourselves, but one writer’s expectations of a writer’s group can be strikingly different from another’s.

For example, a writer preparing a manuscript for submission wants line edits; a writer exploring a new story does not need or want that level of feedback. What’s the point of fixing the commas when you don’t yet if what you just wrote will even be in the final draft?

Common Purpose

common-purpose-2Before you can form an effective writer’s group, you all need to discuss and agree on the group’s purpose. Beyond the basic question of whether you’re forming a Support and Accountability (S&A) group or a critique group, what does each potential member see as the primary purpose of the writer’s group?

Start with everyone freewriting about her/his definition of the group’s purpose. Then discuss what you have in common and where your perspectives differ.

You may be able to compromise to find a common group mission. But if the group is too diverse, it’s better to recognize the incompatibility now and part ways with respect.

Define Expectations

expectationsjpgAn effective writer’s group should also define and share expectations about what group members will do for each other.

If you’re a critique group, how many pages will you read and respond to? How much time will you devote to reading and preparing critique? How will each writer communicate what level of feedback s/he is looking for? How often will you meet and how often can a member expect to have her/his manuscript reviewed?

If you’re a support and accountability group, how often will you share commitments and check-in on your progress? What kind of responses will you give each other? In the Appendix to Around the Writer’s Block, I advise:

“Your S&A (Support and Accountability) group will benefit from discussing two questions in advance:

  1. How you want to support each other (by hitting the Like button or adding comments like ‘Good for you’ to a check-in post or by adding comments or sending email messages with more details).
  2. Whether or not you’ll give each other advice (never, only when asked, whenever you see something the other person might not see) and if so, how you’ll give advice (marked ‘Advice Alert’ similar to ‘Spoiler Alert’ or only as questions or in ‘you might want to think about…’ terms or in straight out directives).”

Both types of groups need to decide in advance how much of their group time will be spent on casual social conversations and how much will be reserved for the “business” of the group.

Shared Experience

Members of a critique can be most effective when they share a genre and even a sub-genre. Meaningful feedback comes from other writers who know your genre’s canon, conventions, clichés, vocabulary and history.

S&A groups benefit from shared vocabulary concepts like Process, Self-care and Product Time, Saboteur, tracking, rewards, etc. They can find this shared experience taking a class together or reading the same book or blog.

Making a writer’s group functional requires a blend of foresight – to bring the right people together – compromise and service – to extend yourself for others – fun –if you don’t enjoy each other’s company, don’t bother– and the courage to be honest. The benefits of having such a group are well worth the effort!

Please share your experiences with effective or ineffective writer’s groups.

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One Comment on “Platinum Rule for Effective Writer’s Groups”

  1. Allegra Magrisso August 7, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

    I really appreciate the thoughtfulness about how members of the group respond to each other – based on what the individual needs. I know I will read through this again to soak up all the rich content here.


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