Writing Club: Writing Group Etiquette

Greetings! The winter months drag on but there is a glimmer of hope as the days grow long. Spring, o spring will you please hurry??

images-45-minute prompt: SCHOOL

Five minutes, stream of consciousness, write whatever comes to mind on the topic… GO!

Your own schools, schools from fiction, schools from film. Hogwarts maybe? Terrible schools or brilliant schools. Terrible teachers or brilliant teachers. Sights, sounds and smells. And think about how different elementary schools are from high schools…

Writing Group Etiquette: Play Nice!

Writers are a solitary bunch, mostly, and prefer to keep their scribblings to themselves, but sometimes it’s good to let those stories out in the fresh air and see what the world thinks of them.

Scary? It doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to post your heartfelt creations on the internet and open yourself up to all kinds of mean and spiteful comments. Instead you should pick your audience carefully: do you have any friends who are also writers? Do you value their taste and opinions? Most importantly, are they NICE?

A Writing Group can be a tremendous help if you’ve got the right mix of people who love writing and are eager to help one another. I took a short story night class once, long ago, and met a very diverse group of writers there – some of them had already formed a writing group and invited me to join them. Members came and went over the years, and we often went long periods without meeting, but my group’s advice, comments and encouragement helped me immensely as I wrote (and rewrote) the early chapters of Eldritch Manor.

editHere’s how my club operated: We tried to meet once a month. Each member emailed his piece to the others a few days before the meeting. (I think there was a length limit of about ten pages.) Everyone printed it out, read it, and wrote their comments on it. At the meeting the author read his/her story out loud and then we discussed it. At the end the author received all the copies with the handwritten notes. Depending on how many people were reading, we sometimes had a time limit for discussions, so that every story could have an equal hearing.

The key to having a great Writing Group is that everyone must be respectful of one another’s work and do their best to give helpful criticism.


– give the writer your full attention as they read their work. No fidgeting, yawning, whispering, or checking your phones. Seems like a no-brainer, I know, but please, please make a real effort to be respectful.

– treat their work seriously. If they email their work out before the meeting, read it before arriving. Give the piece some serious thought so you can make helpful comments.

– always say what you liked about the work along with what you didn’t like so much. It’s always good to start with a positive before tackling the negatives.

– be specific, do not be vague and dismissive. “This story sucks” is not helpful. “I didn’t like the hero much so I didn’t care about what happened to him.” is helpful. “I didn’t like the hero because of what he said on page four (etc)” is even better.

– don’t get nitpicky if it’s a first draft. If this is just a first run-through, do NOT start correcting punctuation and spelling! The first few drafts are all about the big picture – save the fiddly little things for a final or a polish draft. Even better, ask the writer what kind of input they’re looking for – they may just want to know if it makes sense, nothing else. If they are keen for spelling and grammar correction, then you can get your red pen out and go nuts.

– discussions and brainstorming can be really fun, but it’s easy to go off on a tangent and never find your way back. Try to stay on topic and talk about things the author of the piece wants to talk about, especially if there are time restrictions.

– remember that you are only making suggestions. Do not tell the writer how his/her story should end.


– the suggestions people make are just that, suggestions. It’s up to you to decide whether or not to take them seriously. Ignoring suggestions is always an option if you feel strongly about an issue. (And by the way, you don’t have to tell people you will disregard their advice… just nod and smile.)

– don’t get defensive or hurt if someone words their criticism harshly. Take a deep breath and think about what they are saying, not how they are saying it.

It's best not to get too worked up over a critique.

It’s best not to get too worked up over a critique.

– as you read your piece aloud, notice if there are instances when you stumble over the words. This is a sure indication that that spot may need to be reworked a little to smooth it out.

– be clear in what you would like discussed. Are you uncertain about a certain character, wondering if you have too much description, or stuck about what should happen next?  Tell the group specifically what you would like advice about.

– always remember you are dealing with personalities. Know your group members and what they like or don’t like. Don’t be surprised if the guy who hates animal stories isn’t all that keen on your Warriors cat fan fiction.


cloying – (adj) distasteful due to excess; too sweet or sentimental

RMS_Titanic_3titanic – (adj) of exceptional strength, size or power

exemplary – (adj) serving as a desirable model; representing the best of its kind

scuttlebutt – (noun, informal) rumour, gossip: “the scuttlebutt has it that he’s a spy”

superstition – (noun) excessively credulous belief in and reverence for supernatural beings; a widely held but unjustified belief in supernatural causation leading to certain consequences of an action or event, or a practice based on such a belief


When talking about another person plus yourself, do you ever get tangled up in whether it should be “I” or “me”?

Beatrice and I went to the store.


Beatrice and me went to the store.

Which of those sounds better? How about:

They gave the gold medals to Frank and I.


They gave the gold medals to Frank and me.

If you aren’t sure which is correct, just take out the first name (Beatrice/Frank) and see how it sounds.

I went to the store.


Me went to the store.


They gave the gold medals to I.


They gave the gold medals to me.

Clearer? It should be “Beatrice and I” in the first example, and “Frank and me” in the second.

Just don’t put yourself first!


Filed under Get Writing!, Writing Club

2 Responses to Writing Club: Writing Group Etiquette

  1. Good suggestions for writers’ groups. Another good one for the writers: keep track of what your readers consistently like or don’t get, is it your language, your characters, your tone or mood? When they like the same bits of your writing (or the bad) you can hone in. Love the grammar note at the end.

    • Kim

      Yes, thanks for the comment, Angela. Good suggestion – it’s important to know where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and noting trends in the comments you receive can certainly help with that.