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How to Start a Writing Group

Debut novelist Ruiyan Xu has worked with different writing groups for the last eight years. A few years ago, this GalleyCat editor joined a writers group with her–watching Xu finish her new novel, The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai.

We caught up with Xu to find out why she joined these groups. She explained: “I had a full time job pretty much during the entire time that I was working on my novel, and it’s very easy, when one is busy and working, to give writing the short shrift. Being part of a group of people who are passionate and serious about writing (and publishing) gave me a sense of structure that I otherwise lacked. I needed the deadlines that the writer’s group created, and it definitely kept me on track.”

We also asked for her advice on building a successful writing group. “When starting a group, ask around — friends of friends are often great group members because you already have something in common. Try to make sure everyone has similar and compatible goals,” Xu suggested. “If you’re writing in different genres, it’s best if members of the group are at least interested in reading works from each other’s genres. If you have no interest in reading science fiction, and one member of your group only writes science fiction, then those submission are going to be a painful chore to get through.”

Finally, Xu shared a set of ground rules to create a peaceful and productive writing group.

Writers Group Ground Rules

- Try to have regular meeting times.
- Group members hosting each other in their own homes works best. Everyone is a little more relaxed and the conversations are better. But cafes and bars work too.
- Send out works a few days before the meeting so that everyone gets a chance to read it.
- Everyone gives the person who submitted written feedback. I often shelf a piece of writing after a group crit and don’t come back to it for weeks. It’s nice to have something written to look back to.
- Feedback should generally be supportive and constructive.
- Feel free to get rid of the bad apple(s). If someone is being a pain in the butt, and making the group a pain for everyone else, it’s okay to kick them out.
- Stick with it for awhile.

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