How to Conduct a Writing Group

In schools, teachers guide the writing, but in businesses and community organizations, having a facilitator can help a writing group go well. You don’t have to be an expert – guide-sheets on this website can help get writing going and make the sharing of writing a gratifying experience. Some guidelines for a well-functioning group:

Topics. Choice is important for making sure each person’s writing matters to him or her — which is why we haven’t named a theme for the program. So here are some options for identifying topics for writing:

  • A list of possible themes is available on this website [insert link].
  • The group may brainstorm and then choose a topic or issue of interest to all.
  • The group may leave decisions to individuals, using activities available here on the website to help people realize their own good topics. [link]
  • A short article, story, or quotation can inspire writing. Here are some samples [link].

Roles. Sharing responsibilities helps insure a well-functioning group. Here are some roles that can be set or rotated:

  • Facilitator: May propose a topic to help participants get started writing – unless the group has agreed to choose topics individually. During sharing and discussion, the facilitator makes sure everyone gets an opportunity to share the air.
  • Scheduler/Time Keeper: Identifies days and times that work well and schedules the meetings. He or she may also gently remind people when time is growing short so others get a turn.
  • Recorder: Submits brief updates on the group to this website, keeps notes on the group’s norms, and helps individuals upload writing to the website.
  • Norms. Some writers want suggestions for their writing, while others may simply want to be heard. Writing expert Peter Elbow points out that only the writer knows what he or she is trying to say, but only readers/listeners know how the writing strikes them. So a group may wish to set rules about the kind of responses to give. The group may also decide on time limits for discussions to make sure everyone gets a turn.
  • Getting Help. Most groups will find their writing experiences extremely rewarding. However, as in all human endeavors, bumps can occur. The Illinois Writing Project, organizer of Write Across Chicago, has promoted a “workshop” approach to writing in schools for many years, so expert IWP leaders can help with any group concerns. Contact information for consulting an IWP leader is available here.