Starting Your First Workshop Group Outside of Class

Every writer needs to spend time in revision, and one of the best ways to do that can be in a workshop group. Workshopping might seem a little scary, especially when there isn’t a classroom or a professor to help structure it, so here are some tips to help you get started:

Pick people wisely

You’re going to be reading and having your works-in-progress read in this workshop group, so you want to find people whose writing and opinions you respect. The easiest way I’ve found is to approach your classmates, particularly people whose company and writing style you enjoy. If there are people in the group who you don’t respect, you’re not going to take their criticism seriously. That being said, you should also keep in mind whether or not you respect their writing. If you don’t, you probably won’t be able to provide them with good feedback.

Stick to one genre

Like many writers today I like to play around with genre, and while I’m mostly a fiction writer I like to dabble in poetry. My workshop group is entirely made up of fiction writers because we don’t know how to critique other genres like we do our own. Playing with form is awesome, but when you’re forming a group you want to keep genre in mind. Your best friend might be a great poet, but if you only write creative nonfiction you might not be getting the most out of your workshop.

Keep the group manageable

One of the reasons my first workshop group fell apart was too many people.

My ideal workshop group is between 4 to 6 people—anymore than that and it gets a little crazy. You don’t want to be overwhelmed with too many things to read, and sometimes too many people means too many voices. I also found that once our group had grown, people were less likely to show up on a regular basis. Ideally, you want to have a small group of people who will show up dependably.

Set a workshop schedule and stick to it

You’ll want to set a schedule for workshop days, that way everyone in the group knows what they’re expected to have read by a certain time. My writing group now does 10 pages of one person’s work every week. If there isn’t a schedule you may have one person reading one story and everyone else reading another. It gets to be confusing really fast.

Once you have a schedule, make sure you stick to it. It’s so easy to say you’ll participate in a workshop, but after a while people stop sending out their work (or writing altogether) and it turns into social hour. You’re there to have fun, but to also keep each other accountable.

Have fun!

If you’re not having fun you’re not going to want to show up.

Pick a fun name to call your group, and think up crazy writing prompt ideas.
I always try to do something crazy once a month to stir up my writing and keep it interesting—last month we all wrote random things on slips of paper and had a character who could read minds. Every time the character was going to read someone’s mind we had to draw from the pile of written thoughts. While you’re having fun, remember that you’re still working.

Meet the blogger:
EFFIE BARNES is graduating this year with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Primarily a fiction writer, Effie has recently discovered the joys of writing poetry. She also enjoys watching nature documentaries and re-organizing her Harry Potter book collection.

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