How to Run a Writers’ Circle

It’s a bit of a departure from my usual “Ooh Shiny!” swords and whatnot, but ultimately, I am a writer and I do writerly things.  One of those writerly things is providing support to my fellow creative people. For three years, I have run the Bonavista Writers’ Circle in Montreal: a group of writers of various skill levels and interests who come together to brainstorm, edit, critique each other’s work, and provide workshops for skill sharing.  We’ve all learned so much together and come through as stronger, more confident writers.

I’m not able to run the Circle anymore because my wife and I are moving to Finland for work. I’m saddened at having to leave behind this amazing group of people, but I will look back on our time together with pride and a smile. The Circle has taught me a lot, and I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned about running a group like this. Chances are, if there isn’t a Circle in your area, you’ll have to do what we did, and create your own.

  1. Hold a meeting at least twice a month. Even if you don’t feel like it. Anxiety and depression are really common in our community and I understand the black pall of “everything sucks” that descends from time to time. Still, unless you’re puking or actively contagious, do the meeting. The longer you go between meetings, the harder it is to get it started up again.

  1. Feed people. Hunger is distracting and you’ll be surprised at the attendance you get when you offer a free meal. To save on costs, ask guests to bring booze, and desserts as contributions to the meeting.

  1. Stick to a schedule during the meeting. Divide up the time evenly between the attendees and, while allowing everyone to give feedback, cut off the discussion of the piece to make sure everyone gets some attention.

  1. Prose before bros. Don’t get butthurt about criticism. You can’t get better if you refuse to change.

  1. Don’t be an asshole. There is no need to crush a person’s spirit while giving criticism.

  1. Having a printer with a tip jar is handy. That way, when paper or ink need to be bought, there is money for it.

  1. Keep it a Circle. Whether you’ve been published already or never written anything in your life, your feedback and participation are just as valuable as anyone else’s.

  1. Respect the word count. Keep track of the Penalty Box. If someone goes over word count, they get less words in which to express their next piece. If you’re submitting a piece to a magazine and you go over their limit, it won’t be accepted. Better start learning to keep it in the designated parameters.

  1. Respect the formatting. Again, if you don’t obey the parameters set out by a publisher, your piece will be rejected. While it may be a pain in the ass to learn how to do the spacing, headers, etc, it keeps everything from becoming a mess. Don’t get lazy. It’ll pay off later.

  1. Look back. From time to time, pull out old pieces out and take a moment to appreciate how far you’ve come. Laugh at the mistakes you don’t make anymore. Screw around with dusty crap to bring it up to your new, higher standards.

Author: Ethan Kincaid

Ethan Kincaid was born in 1985 in Brockville, a sleepy little town on the St. Lawrence River. He graduated from Carleton University in Ottawa with a degree in Linguistics and a minor in Japanese Language. After finishing his education, he settled down there with his wife Kaitlyn and became a full-time writer. In 2011, he moved to Montreal and discovered its vibrant writing culture. In 2015, Ethan moved to Helsinki, Finland with his wife; he works as a props crafter and part time author. His first book, Blood of Midnight: The Broken Prophecy is the first of a new fantasy trilogy. The greatest joy in his life lies in helping budding writers find their voices. In his words: "I like to shake people until cool stuff comes out!"

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