Sarah Raymond is a writer and artist from Toronto, Ontario. Her young adult novel, Signs of Martha, comes out in spring 2011 with Great Plains Publications. Scroll on down for musings on writing, art and other perils of domestic life. Homemade drawings included.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

How to Operate a Writers Group

My son: (not looking up from his ds game) Where ya going? Book group?
Me: (slinging on shoulder bag) No, no. Writers group. Writers group is different. We work.
Son: Are there cookies?
Me: Of course.

The tea and cookies at my writers group are deceivingly genteel. The women are grisly mean. Monster-attackers of words. I love them. People often ask me how a writers group works. Here are operating instructions for mine.

1) Assemble a group of like-minded writer-types, the meaner the better. We have a group of 5.

2) A week or so ahead of your meeting, write the chapter of a book.

3) Suspend your finger over the computer's send-to-all key and then pause.

4) Realize you didn't proofread enough. Do so. Discover a plot hole bigger than the North West Territories and feverishly rewrite, all the while noting the diminishing afternoon. Your children will soon be waiting at school for pick-up and depending on the day, will either feel dejected or angry.

5) Give up, send to all, and make a run for the schoolyard.

6) Over the next few days, print the chapters your group members sent you.

7) Carve out delicious, sneaky moments to edit their work with a sharp pencil. My favourite is during prep time while supply teaching for high school English. I look just like a real teacher marking papers except I'm having more fun.

8) Meet at the designated home and enter via your group's secret handshake. Not really, but enjoy idle chatter and laughter. Soon it will end.

9) Crit your group members' works aloud and in earnest. Note similarities in reactions. Interrupt. Get annoyed about interruptions. Listen to the others debate your chapter. Get out of the way. If there's blood, so be it.

10) Watch the fog lift off your chapter. The work you were so close to has suddenly taken shape as an entity in the world. See its annoying faults. Celebrate its quirkiness. There may be a faint chorus of angels. That's not your writing group--they're eating cookies. It's the crystal-clear choir of perspective ringing in your ears.

11) Return home with your stack of edited chapter versions and sprint to your laptop for revisions.

12) Repeat as necessary.


  1. That brings back fond memories! Gosh, I miss my writing groups from college SO MUCH! The feeling of achievement after working through a good crit is better than ice cream :-)

  2. Sounds like you need to get back into the writing group scene ... or buy a lot of icecream!

  3. Love your little monsters! Must be fun making them...