Starting a writing feedback group
Find your peers
So you've written something - maybe a poetry collection, a screenplay, a short story or a novel - and want to find out if it's any good. Even if you have willing friends and family, it’s good to start to show your work to impartial people who understand what you’re going through. Whatever form or genre you’re working in, there will be others looking for like-minded writers so they can share work.
Social media is a good place to start looking. Try using Twitter or Facebook to follow writers you like, organisations and find fellow writers. Using the hashtag #WritingCommunity in your posts can help you connect. You can also use this to search for other writers. If you’re worried about using social media, set up an account which is just related to your writing interests so you can control what and who you see and interact with.
Local libraries, community centres and bookshops often have noticeboards. Post a notice and let them know you’re looking to connect with other writers.
Taking courses or workshops is another great way to meet writers. Try to stay in touch with anyone you connect with. Building a network of potential writing peers does take some time but is really worthwhile.
Start a group
Once you’ve found a willing group of writers – you don’t need lots, just a small group works to begin with – it’s important to set some ground rules. This helps to clarify intentions and give people the space and flexibility to participate in a way they’re comfortable with. It’s really important to set these expectations early on, then revisit them if things change.
What’s your purpose?
Decide on the purpose of the group. Is it for moral support, editorial feedback, beta reading? Set this out so everyone is on the same page.
Share the load
Think about who might manage things like chats, setting dates and arranging meetings. If one person is happy to take the lead on managing the group, that's great. If you can, try to share any load across members, and to adapt if anyone needs a break or a change.
How will you meet?
Find a way that is accessible for everyone. In-person meets can work but setting up either an email or WhatsApp group is a quick and convenient way for everyone to stay in touch. Try to use free tools to connect virtually and meet in cafes, libraries or outdoor spaces if you’re able to connect in person.
How often will you check in?
Everyone has different things going on in their lives, and these can change quickly. Don’t set demands on each other’s time that are unrealistic or unfair. Set a regular time and day to check in, maybe monthly, then see how it goes. If some people check in more regularly, that’s great. Making sure the group are still enjoying working together and don’t feel pressured is key to sustaining it.
What can I give?
If you want feedback on your work, it’s quite a lot to ask from someone. Establish early on what you want and what you’re able to give in return, like reciprocating feedback. It’s also important to be open about your availability and, if you need to, to step away for a while if you can’t take part fully.
What if things change?
It might be useful to set a review after the first few months so everyone can discuss how things are going and if any changes need to be made. Try to keep each other in the loop and speak up if there's something bothering you or that you need support with.
What You Need
Now you have a group with a purpose, and you’re ready to send your work to your peers. There are a few things to prepare before you do this.
Editing and Proofing
Early drafts don’t need to be perfect, but they do need to be readable and coherent. Spend some time editing and proofing your work so it's the best it can be. This gives your peers a clear idea of your style and voice and will help them give useful feedback.
Set some questions
Its best to have in mind what you need from your readers. So, if you’re writing a novel, you might be sending out the first chapter and want feedback on the plot, or the characterisation. Don’t ask for too much. Focus on the areas you need help with, and outline these when you send out your work. This helps you and your readers focus and give useful, constructive feedback.
Don’t take it personally
Remember, people are commenting on your work, not you. Take comments into consideration, look at ways you can use the feedback. And if you don’t agree, that’s fine. You don’t have to implement it. Writing is subjective and some feedback will focus on personal preference and learning how to recognise this is a huge part of successfully using feedback to improve your work.
If things go wrong
Not every writing feedback relationship lasts. And this is ok. Life and priorities change. It can take time to find the right people to share your work with, and if this means stepping away and starting again, don’t worry.
Setting out guidelines as suggested above should give your group space to resolve any conflicts and make changes when needed. If anything becomes uncomfortable, try to discuss it. Remember, this is about sharing work that is at times very personal and about building relationships with peers that last. Keep this in mind when you interact and be understanding of each other. And most importantly, be kind and respectful to each other, and to yourself. Enjoy it...writing is a joy.