“That is absolutely incredibly magnificent. I LOVE it!” That is stage one of a writer’s group, usually for beginning writers who are building courage. It’s a huge deal to read your writing in front of others. A safe group brimming over with affirmation is a great way to start.

But after a while, usually to do with someone else’s work of course, a suggestion or two for improvements drift through your mind. For anyone to improve at their craft, those suggestions need to eventually float gently out of your mouth like a kind butterfly (or something).

A writer’s group that is honest and committed to helping each other truly improve their work can help any writer at any stage.

I have a group now, of women writers all roughly around the same age, (with one member tilting our average younger, which is lovely), all professionals. We meet not nearly often enough. We often share our victories and awards and work we are especially proud of through email. We ask each other’s advice on dealing with an editor who may be difficult, a problem with a client, a decision about a website. We play around with story ideas with each other. We suggest sources.

Like the best kind of mentoring relationship, this group grew up organically. They are all women I knew, who knew of each other. I sent out a group email and invited them to meet at a Toronto restaurant to think about how we could perhaps serve each other in this way. It was a good call.

If you don’t have a writer’s group, here are some tips to get started. Including what to do when you get there:

1. Think of writers you know who share a desire for support, suggestions and the occasional face-to-face. Invite them to explore the idea of a writer’s group.

2. If it’s a group for sharing work, set some ground rules. Agree to move as quickly as possible past the “Extreme Affirmation of Everything Everybody Writes” stage of the group. Set a bluntness scale from 1 – 10. How honest will you be? Will you always find a positive first, before making a suggestion? Talk about these things openly and honestly. Everyone probably shares a similar fragile poet soul combined with the desire to have work published. These two can co-exist.

3. Have a “casual leader” for each session. This person will gently and eventually shush Those Who Talk Too Much All Night Long and make sure everyone has airtime.

4. If you’re not critiquing each other’s work, choose a discussion topic for your get-together. Maybe it’s brainstorming how to break into new markets, how to repurpose already published material, effective interviewing techniques, best writing books, ect.

5. Finally, just enjoy each other’s company. When my group of writer friends do meet in person, we also spend a lot of time just talking about life in the way that women do. What a gift.