Sunday, December 30, 2012

Leadership of the Small Writing Group , Part I


Support for one another is the common thread that holds small writing groups together. And that’s good. But even small critique groups, writing circles, clubs, or guilds, need leadership. Without it, friendships that develop can cause a writing circle to degenerate into a writers’ social. Serious writers drop out, and the group folds.

In its advice on how to organize a writing group, the book CRAFT: Create, Rewrite, and Fine Tune*, tells how to prevent a break-up by putting guidelines in place when the group is first formed. Basic guidelines in writing give prospective members a clear idea of what to expect when joining the group. A leader’s simple statement, “Remember, we do it this way,” is usually all it takes to head off conflict, a members’ press for change, or overly disruptive chatter.

That does not mean dynamics will not change. With fundamental elements in place, however, it’s easy enough to tweak ground rules as necessary. CRAFT suggests an annual review of its structure and the direction it is taking, regardless of an association’s size. The following are among dozens of questions leadership may want to consider:

·          Are members satisfied with the meeting day and time, and meeting length?
·          What about the meeting place? How well is the present arrangement working?
·          Variations in meeting structure are endless. Of importance is how well your present structure is working for your group. Members who suggest changes should be ready with ideas on how to implement the changes, and, if adopted, to then be responsible for putting new procedures in place.
·          Do policies require redefining? For example, what is: “too steamy” in romance novels; unacceptable language; overly violent scenes, and so forth?
·          Is the work load fair and effective? While large groups tend to elect annual officers, the leadership in small groups often falls to its original organizer(s). The book CRAFT lists a number of positions with duties, if there are sufficient volunteers to take on extra responsibility. Those are the subject of another article. The primary leadership role belongs to the facilitator.

A writing Group’s Facilitator

This is the group’s main leader. Duties will vary from group to group, but will typically include the following:

·          Makes leadership decisions between meetings, often in consultation with key members who make a point of keeping up with group concerns and activities, attend meetings as regularly as they can, and act as advisors to the facilitator.
·          Opens, and later closes the meeting, conducts the business session, if applicable, and makes necessary announcements, including welcoming of guests and introduction of guest speakers.
·          Keeps activities on track in order to complete the meeting’s agenda.
·          Facilitates discussion, aiming for a balance between encouraging participation of all in attendance while discouraging discussion from turning into desultory chat.
·          Direct the critique session if it is on the agenda. Typical priorities for the critique leader is to keep the session moving, and remind members, when necessary, to not interrupt the critique, to critique the writing and not content, phrase comments in a positive manner, and so forth. In short, the person who facilitates a critique session should be aware of the group’s standards for the giving and receipt of critique, and with diplomacy, encourage those standards to be followed.

In large groups, members' contribution to their organization may be limited to their annual dues. The smaller the group, the more each member should accept responsibilities. Learn how to add spark to the small writing group through teamwork in Leadership of the Small Writing Group, Part II.    

*CRAFT: Create, Rewrite, and Fine Tune is still in an editing stage, with a unit or two not finished.

I am indebted to my friend, Diane Mowery, for help with this article. 

© Bernice W. Simpson 

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