If you want to become a successful novelist or painter or musician, it doesn’t happen overnight. Many different factors are necessary including hard work, practice, and dedication. When reading about the lives of several famous writers, I discovered another important ingredient that contributed to their success: a writing club. Having a group of fellow writers who critiqued their work and encouraged them along the way was an essential part of their writing process.
Of course, it isn’t only writers who can form these kinds of clubs. Gathering together several likeminded friends working on similar endeavors to yours could be just the missing ingredient you all need to successfully launch your next big idea or finish a current project. In today’s post, I’ll share why these groups can be so beneficial and five steps you can take to get started forming your own.
Why Start a Writing Club?
The Inklings is undoubtedly one of the most famous writing groups because of two of its founding members: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Originally, the two writers and their friends gathered on Thursday evenings at Lewis’s rooms in Magdalen College. Later on, they would also meet for lunch at a local Oxford pub called The Eagle and Child. The evening sessions tended to be more serious, a time when the writers could discuss the manuscripts that they were working on. The afternoon meetings were more lighthearted and fun.
C. S. Lewis’s brother, Warren, noted, “Properly speaking, the Inklings was neither a club nor a literary society, though it partook of the nature of both. There were no rules, officers, agendas, or formal elections.” It was simply a friendly environment where these serious writers could come together to share ideas, talk about books and any other topics that interested them, and receive feedback on the latest drafts of their novels. In fact, members of The Inklings were the first to hear Tolkien read aloud from a manuscript that would eventually become The Lord of the Rings.
Warren observed, “We were no mutual admiration society: praise for good work was unstinted, but censure for bad work – or even not-so-good work – was often brutally frank.” By receiving an outside opinion on their work, the writers were able to rewrite passages and develop their story ideas even further. If a story had stalled and they weren’t sure how to continue, the other members could encourage them to keep pressing forward or suggest new plot twists.
Ultimately, the Inklings encouraged each of their members to delve deeper with their writing. Everyone was expected to contribute during the meetings. Everyone was expected to develop as a writer. C. S. Lewis said of his fellow Inklings members, “What I owe to them is incalculable.”
Indeed, having your own club like The Inklings will give you a community and a sense of belonging. You are surrounded by fellow writers who have faced the same struggles as you and can share invaluable advice. Such a club will keep you accountable to write something every week and will provide you with an immediate audience. Your friends will make sure you complete your projects, continue honing your skills, and don’t give up on your dreams.
How to Start Your Own Writing Club
1. Find Friends Who Are Serious About Their Craft
The members are the most important element of a successful club. Everyone should share the same passion for writing. Everyone should be at about the same level. That way, you can all challenge each other. You do not need to have a large group. Actually, small groups are usually better as it allows more time to critique each other’s writing and give quality feedback. You could even start your writing club with only one other person.
The important thing is to find people who will keep you accountable to your writing goals and who will inspire you with their own determination to follow through on theirs. If you don’t know any friends who share your love of writing, maybe it is because you’ve been keeping your own writing a secret. Start a blog and share your posts with your friends. It is amazing the doors that will open when you start sharing your writing.
2. Decide How You Will Meet: Online or at the Coffee Shop
In today’s internet age, members of your club do not even need to live in the same country. I am a member of a writing club that is set up through a Facebook group and several members of our group live in different states. Your club could choose to have monthly meetings over Google+ or Skype or you could just email each other your stories. Ultimately, when starting your club, you need to decide whether you want to have an exclusive online presence or whether you would prefer meeting in each other’s homes or at the local coffee shop. Sometimes you could even do both. For example, even though my writing club is online, I still like to meet in person with a friend to write and talk about writing.
3. Determine What Your Club Will Be Like
There are countless different ways to organize your club meetings. When I was twelve, I started a club with two other friends, and we would meet to share the writing we had worked on during the week and give each other feedback. In the Facebook group I am a part of now, we do not share our in-progress writing. Rather, the leaders set up writing challenges: for example, a short story challenge with prompts and deadlines. This helps us practice different types of writing and exercise our writing muscle each week.
When I meet with my friend in person, we like to talk about the stories we are working on (sometimes we’ll share our rough drafts), and then we’ll work on some fun writing prompts too. With another friend, we like to just meet, talk about our stories, and then spend time actually working on them. Somehow we are inspired to write when we are in the same room with someone else who is writing. Ultimately, find out what your friends are looking for in a club. Maybe they want to do weekly writing prompts (I’ve compiled a free book with 31 writing prompts that you can download once you join the email list). Maybe your friends are just looking for writing partners who can help critique their work.
4. Keep the Club Lighthearted and Fun
It is also important not to make your writing club too bureaucratic. Though you should be sure to meet consistently and encourage members to keep writing every week, you don’t always need to follow a strict schedule. Your meetings don’t always have to be about critiquing each other’s writing. You can also talk about writing techniques or books you have read or even movie plots (a lot of writers are inspired by movies and TV shows). You could decide to throw a party at the end of the year to celebrate everyone’s accomplishments. Really, the only rule of your club should be to write and to encourage each other.
5. Help Each Other
This is the true mission of the writing club. When critiquing someone’s work, make sure to point out what you do like in the story before pointing out what you think should be changed. Compliments should always come before criticism. Always explain how the writing can be improved rather than just saying why it is wrong.
At its heart, the writing club is meant to provide you with a support group. As I wrote in this post, writers often find their best ideas when brainstorming with others. And, as Lewis and Tolkien found, a writing club gives you a tight-knit group of fellow adventurers who are dedicated to ensuring you do your best work and who can share their wisdom along the way.