Getting the Most Out of a Writing Group

I know a lot of people who are interested in started writing groups, but one issue that frequently comes up is how to ensure a productive meeting. Here’s a worksheet I usually use in order to get the most out of any writing group I attend:

Hand a copy of your manuscript to each of the other members of your group. Read through all of the manuscripts that you have been given. Pay special attention to the following issues.

1. Who should I care about? What do they want?*

  • Put a star in the margin when you figure you who you, as a reader, are supposed to care about.
  • Put two stars in the margin where you figure out what they want.

2. Engagement/Distractions

  • Put an exclamation point next to any passage that pulls you in. Briefly explain why.
  • Put a question mark next to anything that gets in the way of your full immersion in the story. What breaks the illusion? Briefly explain.

3. What’s at stake?

  • In your own words, explain what’s at stake in this story.

4. What’s lurking?

  • Where is this story’s untapped potential? What remains to be explored? How might the author draw out some of this “lurking” material?

5. Where’s the sense appeal?

  • Make a note wherever the author does a good job of appealing to the senses.
  • Make a note wherever the author has missed a perfect opportunity to appeal to a particular sense.

Once you’ve had a chance to read the manuscripts of everybody in your group, report your findings to the author. Discuss the work of one author at a time. Go around in a circle until everyone has spoken. The author may take notes but may not comment until everyone has had a chance to speak.

*I lifted these questions from Steve Almond’s This Won’t Take But a Minute Honey. If you’re interested in writing, this is a great book to read on the subject.

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