It’s been a little over a year since I’ve started meeting up with my writing group and I must say it has been of great help! I thought I’d open up and share how we’ve organised our writing group (and secretly try to convince you to start a writing group as well).
April last year. I posted a message in a Facebook group for fantasy writers in the Netherlands: whether anybody would be interested in setting up a writing group. Not to write together, but to share written pieces, read them up front and meet up to provide each other with comments. Four people responded, creating a group of five writers, who I have already learned much from.
There are certain things we’ve established as a writing group over the last year. Some things grew gradually and some things we consciously decided to do in order to give the best feedback and ensure we all felt comfortable. Here’s a list of the things we settled on.
- Our writing group is fairly flexible. All of us are either studying or working full-time or part-time. We cannot write eight hours a day and sometimes we just have a lot on our schedule. That, in turn, means we cannot join every writing session. We all try, but we can’t always make it. I, for instance, informed my writing group last August I wasn’t going to be able to participate for roughly four months as there was an intense semester at the uni coming up. Others have had the same issues, but no one ever made a fuss about it.
- We come together every two weeks (in case we can). Because there are five of us, mostly we’ve got a good group to offer feedback. Even when two writers cannot make it, we still receive feedback from two people.
- We always submit our pieces the week before, so we have seven days to read and provide the written work with comments.
- We submit 1000 words per person each week. If a writer can’t come, someone sometimes takes the liberty to submit a larger piece and every now and then someone voices their wish to have an entire chapter checked and submits that chapter as a whole.
- During the meet-up we take a minimum of 30 minutes per piece so a discussion can take place on certain elements of the story. Mostly, we do not mention any grammatical errors as we’ve written them down on the page. What we discuss are things like plot, character, sentence structure, suspense and worldbuilding elements.
- It is definitely optional within our group, but a trend has appeared amongst some of us that whenever comments are given, the one who has written the piece remains quiet. This helps track the reaction to certain elements of your writing, rather than simply explain it. It increases the chances of gathering the right information to enhance your story. Being silent can be difficult sometimes as a natural defensive mechanism seems to pop up, but ignore it and you will be able to tell how your story is coming across.
- We often start by mentioning the general comments that we noted down. Then we move from paragraph to paragraph and run through the text. Discussions take place and questions are asked.
- At times, when someone is stuck or wishes to get some insight into their story, someone brings along an outline, a story idea, a part of their worldbuilding or a simple question and requests feedback on that. This happens about every other meeting. A recent question of mine was ‘What genre am I writing in?’. I was aiming at high fantasy, but wanted to hear what the writers in my writing group thought I was writing. Fortunately, their answer was high fantasy as well. Load off my back, truly!
We’ve noticed these things have given some structure to our writing group without carving rules in stone. I definitely feel lucky I found this group of people, who are roughly in a similar position. They, like myself, do not always have a massive amount of time to write, but still want to receive feedback to improve their writing.
Of course I won’t end this blog post without mentioning the talented Dutch writers in my writing group: Marieke Frankema, Liselotte Schoevaart, Anja Stoop and Tim Lommerse.
- Marieke Frankema, my lovely name buddy (yes, that can be confusing), has been in the writing game for a while now. She’s written several fantasy books for both children and adults (in Dutch). With the pen name Mary K. Franklin she also writes romance novels (in English). Her focus seems to be on emotions. She gets into a character’s mind and considers what one might feel in a certain situation. Definitely one of her strong suits!
- Liselotte Schoevaart is a wonderful fantasy writer, who is currently working on a fantasy novel. One of the remarkable features of her writing is the accuracy in writing medieval settings. She has great knowledge of the Middle Ages and manages to flawlessly put characters in a similar world. In 2016 Liselotte won the short story contest of publisher Luitingh-Sijthoff with her story ‘Nieuw Schiermonnikoog’.
- Anja Stoop is a good friend of mine and the previous co-owner of Bookly Bird. She has a degree in English and writes, not unsurprisingly, in both English and Dutch. I absolutely love the creativity with which Anja goes about her stories. Her fantasy elements have this kind of whimsical touch that is very appropriate within her worlds and settings. One of the things I’ve noticed is that she knows how to distinguish character voices really well.
- Tim Lommerse recently published his first novel Het Lucifer dilemma. Most noticeable about his writing for me is that his fantasy has a nice dark edge to it while still keeping that fantasy sparkle intact. He focuses mostly on urban young adult fantasy. On his website worldbuilding.nl he informs Dutch fantasy authors on how to create a world of their own.
Are you in a writing group? What are your rules of thumb?