We've talked about critique groups before on the blog, but mostly from an online group perspective. Today I want to throw out some ideas for what you can do with an in-person writing group.
First, it's always a good idea to see what people want from the group. Define expectations from the start so that everyone is on the same page. Perhaps the members all want to read and critique each other's chapters and that's it. If that's the type of group you're looking to set up, and you need tips on how to give a critique, how to receive a critique, or how to be a good critique partner, click on each link respectively. But if you're looking for some other ideas, there are a lot of neat things you can do with an in-person group. Let's look at a few.
If someone is stuck in their novel, often the best way to help them through it is to let them talk it out with a group of people who know the right questions to ask. You might even schedule brainstorming days where you each take a turn getting ideas for your work-in-progress, or working out a new idea that's been stewing.
The longer you're an author, the more authors you'll get to know. If you live in a good-sized city, odds are high that there are a couple local authors your writing group could get to know. Invite one to speak at your group. You could suggest a teaching topic for them or let them choose their own. You might even be able to Skype an author in to your group.
Another idea is to let each member take a turn teaching on a topic or leading a discussion on said topic. If you're not sure how to go about it, you could find a good blog post on the topic and have everyone read it, or if it's short, read it out loud to the group. Then discuss.
You could get everyone to read the same book. This could be fiction or nonfiction. Or you could alternate. First everyone reads the same fiction book, then next time everyone reads a nonfiction writing craft book. Either way, the discussions can help you study different aspects of the craft of writing.
Share a writing prompt and let each member write something. It can be a lot of fun to see how very different everyone's pieces will be from the same prompt. You might also try throwing away your story at the end. Some people might cringe at this idea, but doing this can help you realize that you don't need to hold onto your words so dearly. You wrote them, and you can write them again because you're a writer, and that's what writers do. That way, next time your computer crashes and you lose 10k, you might not also lose too much of your mind.
Write up a schedule and choose a different craft topic to work on each week and discuss, like dialogue, action tags, punctuation, description, characterization, plot, etc.
Keep your eyes peeled for awesome events that you can drive to. Go as a group to a writer's conference, a book signing of an author you all respect, or a comic con-like event where you can attend panels and try to meet famous authors.
Have a book party where you all dress up as characters from a famous story and read a chapter or two out loud, each reading your part in character. A friend of mine did this with Harry Potter. She put character names into a sorting hat, had a box of costume items ready, and each guest drew a name. The person who drew Hagrid put on a bushy fake beard, the person who drew Harry wore a pair of broken glasses, Hermione put on a curly wig, etc. Then you find a fun chapter to read out loud that has most all of the characters in it, and each person has to read in the voice of their character. It's pretty fun. (Check out my author picture today of me cosplaying as Éowyn.)
Sometimes you just need to vent about things. Rejection, maybe. Frustration over writer's block. Discussions over major career decisions. Let each other share what they're struggling with and be there for each other. Listen. It's awesome to be with people who "get it."
Challenging each other to word wars is a great way to get a lot of writing done in a short period of time.
Writing retreats are another way to get a lot of writing done in a couple days. Plus, being with other writers adds camaraderie to the aspect of setting and reaching writing goals. Everyone is working towards something and encouraging each other to succeed.
In-person writing groups are really just about hanging out with other writers, so have fun. Also, don't stress if some people quit and new members join up. Writers are different and are looking for specific things. Some might like a more regimented, fast-paced, let's-get-our-novels-written-and-critiqued-and-sold-asap type of group, while other seek something more casual. We each need to be in a group that meets our needs. One group can't do that for every person.
Are you part of an in-person writing group? If so, how often does your group meet and what types of activities do you do? Share in the comments.