What needs to happen before your first meeting?
Understand what YOU want to get out of the group.
As the facilitator of a new group, you need to be clear about the goals and intentions of your group. Are you meeting to provide feedback, to keep each other accountable to writing goals, to discuss and help each other to publication or to meet and write together? This can be brainstormed at the first meeting with the members of the group but you need to be able to articulate why you decided to start a group in the first place and for what purpose.
Groups generally meet to:
Focus on a particular aspect of storytelling and to brainstorm solutions to story problems
Pool resources and knowledge to help members become published or to develop their networks or online presence
Provide feedback on works-in-progress
Use a prompt or theme and write short pieces and then share and discuss
You will also need to decide on what ‘type’ of writers you’ll be comfortable leading – genre writers, poetry, children’s book illustrators? The obvious place to start is with what you’re currently working on.
It’s important for you to be clear about what you can offer the group in terms of time and resources. It’s better to under-commit rather than over-commit and realise the pace doesn’t work for you. There are many groups that manage quite well only meeting every couple of months. Before the first meeting, it’s good to decide on meeting frequency, time, place and length of meeting. This can be done at the first meeting and, most importantly, should remain flexible if circumstances change. It’s a good idea to check in with the group every few months to ensure the group structure and meeting frequency etc still works for everyone.
Once you’ve decided on the goals of the group and the logistics of meeting time and frequency, it will help you decide on the optimal size of the writing group. If your meetings run shorter, you’ll have to decide on how many people you can handle, while still giving everyone time for feedback or to speak and share.
I’ve run groups where we distribute up to 4000 words beforehand. On the night, we meet and come prepared with feedback so the entire meeting is dedicated to discussing the pieces. The meetings run for 2 ½ hours and it works because the group size is fairly small, no more than 6 writers. I’ve also run other groups where the word limit is much lower and the goal of the group isn’t so much to give feedback on the night but to brainstorm specific story problems. For example, one week we discuss the role of the antagonist in everyone’s work, on another night we discuss the setting etc. This structure allows for a larger group size because everyone is involved and we use the 2 ½ hours as an extended brainstorming session.
Either way, I needed to be very clear about the intentions of the group and make sure it was fair to everyone. It’s also true that sometimes the needs of a group change and it was important for me to stay open to that too.