Creative writing is a muscle. Much like going to the gym, making that initial effort to put in the work every day to build up that muscle will absolutely feel daunting. You can’t expect yourself to walk in and immediately be able to squat 300 kilos of weights (or whatever it is that swole people do in gyms).
But you don’t have to do it alone! That’s what writing groups are for: like-minded people coming together–no matter the skill level–and collaborating to improve their writing abilities.
Where do you even find a writer’s group, though? How do you know if that group you randomly found on Facebook is a good fit for you? What do you even do in one to get better at writing?
Why not just start your own?
That’s what I did – I couldn’t futz around any longer waiting for some perfect, catch-all group to stumble upon me and somehow transform me into this super-amazing-fantastico screenwriter. I made my own, and have been meeting up to write with the same core group of folks every Saturday ever since.
Here are three hyper-specific things I’ve done to lead an online writer’s group that’s productive, invigorating, sustainable, and a joy to be a part of.
Put The Emphasis On Exercises
The majority of screenwriting groups I have participated in tended to put the emphasis on writers bringing in excerpts from their works-in-progress and everyone else providing feedback. Which is important, and has its place!
But again, writing is a muscle, and I wanted the bulk of my writer’s group’s sessions to be about that: writing. Then and there.
Work to curate a session of short exercises to get everyone in the group writing.
Each writing exercise should always have these rules:
- A time limit
- Specific parameters/clear guidelines
- A goal that is targeted at a specific writing skill
Sticking to these rules will help push everyone to not overthink and unleash their instincts, all while working on improving a specific aspect of their writing abilities.
One favorite exercise of mine is to have everyone write a scene that limits them to only action paragraphs and no dialogue to have them work on getting better at writing action.
Or, inversely, I’ll have them write a scene with two characters speaking to one another with no action lines at all to get better at writing dialogue.
Spice things up and do writing exercises together! Co-write a short script where each person in the group takes turns writing a section of the story. It gives everyone an opportunity to practice using their voice to best compliment all the other voices involved. Trust me – that Frankenstein script will always surprise you in the end.
Most importantly, use this time to just write. Write a lot. Some of it will be magic. Some of it will be garbage. Revel in that garbage! It’s how you’ll write stronger next time around.
Like those swole people say: you can’t skip leg day.
Dish It & Take It: Make Time For Impactful Feedback
Feedback is crucial. However, it can be tricky to give impactful feedback after table-reading a script for the first time – when you’re expected to immediately respond with something concrete and coherent that the writer can use to improve their script. Doubly so if you want to be conscientious of time to dedicate to exercises.
The way my writing group tackles this is to have writers send their work-in-progress pieces a few days ahead of time. We then set aside time at the end of the session for everyone to give their feedback.
We call that time the Dish It & Take It time.
During this time, the writers of the work-in-progress scripts aren’t allowed to give a long spiel explaining the work: the work has to speak for itself. They allow the group to give feedback that they’ve had a few days to refine and develop.
There is immense value in being vulnerable enough to listen to your peers being honest about how your work made them feel. That’s your script’s first audience! Listen to what got them excited about your piece and what they didn’t quite understand.
Invest ample time in impactful feedback. Champion each other! Not only will the work get better naturally, but the writer will feel more enthused to go write in general. Hype each other up!
Take Breaks & Just Talk
Not even the swolest of the swole lifts weights for 3 hours straight. They take breaks. Drink water. Stretch. Sit. Talk to one another.
Writing fatigue is a very real thing. While it’s important to meet every week to sustain your writing group, burnout can happen quickly if you don’t find a way to balance your writing sessions.
About 2 or 3 months into our weekly online writer’s group, things were getting stale. It felt like a slog. So we made a more concerted effort to begin each session by just talking to one another. Sometimes for 20 or 30 minutes.
The human beings in your life will always ALWAYS come before your writing. Having a support system to routinely touch base with helps alleviate the pressure we often sabotage ourselves with as writers.
So if you want to keep your writing group sustainable, encourage chitty chatting! You’ll get to the writing, I promise. Who knows! You might get an unexpectedly great writing prompt from a story someone shares. But most importantly, encourage camaraderie and community over anything else. That will motivate you to keep on keepin’ on.
The neat thing about leading your own online writer’s group is that it’s an experience you can create for other people to enjoy– just like a screenplay!
So be proactive! Go create the most fun and impactful writing experience you yourself would love to be a part of.
Take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!
Write write write write WRITE!