F&G Writers began as an idea over beers at Betty's two years ago. Fellow students and I had just finished Short Stories II, a creative writing class taught by Emily Schultz, and thought it would be cool to start a writing group. After a few pints, I volunteered to organize. The next morning, I woke not only with a hangover but also with fear and dread. What did I know about starting a workshop?
Weeks later, two of the kids from school sent me emails. Was I still on board? Crap, they were serious. My comfort zone would need serious renovations. I had taken three classes with Emily who ran super fluid productive workshops; I used her as a model. I also talked to writer friends, and yes, there were discouraging tales of woe, but after sixteen workshops, F&G is still going strong.
Tips and Strategies for Organizing and Moderating a Workshop:
1. Personalities. This can be tricky because writers are a strange lot. Invite writers you've met in classes and friends whose work you've read. Diversity of life experience, style, voice, and the ability to give constructive feedback are all important factors. No hotheads or crybabies.
2. Commitment. Crucial for longevity. You want members who are focused on their writing despite other interests and day jobs. The group can't be a drop-in.
3. Size. It matters. I thought eight was the magic number, but it took careful time management and lots of reading and critiquing. Two writers left in the first year and then six seemed perfect. We lost one more and five works fine although new blood is about to be injected.
4. Consistency. We meet on a Friday night, every six weeks for three hours. Do not deviate from your plan as juggling dates around individual schedules is a nightmare. We meet at my home. You want a place that is comfortable, quiet, and accessible.
5. The Work. Anything goes fiction. We write short stories, flash fiction, excerpts, beginnings, and the occasional genre piece. Encourage submissions that are under twelve pages. Give occasional prompts to challenge one another (e.g., write 2nd person POV, use the word murder on the first page, write an urban legend).
6. Format. Ask members to email their fiction one week prior to meeting. At the workshop each writer reads a passage before the group gives feedback. Encourage everyone to comment before the member explains and/or asks questions. Written feedback is optional. Give equal time to each story (varies with story length).
7. Chill. Writing is serious work but workshopping doesn't have to be. As time passes and trust is built the group will become more laid back and open. We take each other's work seriously, but there's a lot of laughing and joking too.
8. Extra Curricular. Plan dinners out between workshops. This gives you a chance to talk shop (process, submissions, books, rejections and successes), and of course, to have fun. Add literary field trips to book launches and readings.
Running F&G is about process, much like writing. I didn't know how it would work or if it would work before it began, but it has definitely been worth the effort.