- New for 2014: I’m running various Northampton UK-based writing courses.
- I also have five free-of-charge Online Writing Groups, four of which have sets of writing prompts every weekday!
Regardless of whether you are a new writer or have been multi-published, I would always recommend belonging to a writing group – you can always learn (and teach) something.
If you are based in the UK and are looking for a writing group, the best place to look is the NAWG – National Association of Writing Groups’ Directory of Writers’ Circles. https://www.writers-online.co.uk/Writers-Groups is also a great list. If you live in the US there’s a list here and for Canada there’s a page of allsorts.
I live in Northamptonshire, England and there are various writing groups in the county. I am involved in three: Northampton Writers Group (fortnight Thursdays), Northampton Literature Group* (first Tuesday – the NLG also has a new blog!), and Towcester Writers Group (third Wednesday).
*Northampton Literature Group also has a Reading Group which meets on the second Tuesday of the month (term-time) and a Poetry Group on the third Tuesday of the month.
I have been a member of the Northampton Writers Group (NWG) since 2010, and Chair from January 2012 to January 2015.
The NWG website is http://www.northamptonwriters.org.uk (calendar here) and also some of the group’s writing. Nick, our Secretary, who updates the website and tirelessly organises the long-running H.E. Bates Short Story Competition, does all the hard work so I plan to get more involved and hopefully spread the word a little more about our group, even if it’s just here on the internet. Membership to this group is £5 a year plus £3 per person per visit. First attendance is free.
The group meets the first and third Thursday evening of each month – details on the home page of the NWG website. Every other fortnight is ‘Free Manuscript’* where members can read out anything we’ve written / a work in progress and want critique on, with specific topics in between. These topics are optional but we start with these so you’re welcome to bring your work in progress then too. The NWG is also listed on the Directory of Writers’ Circles. I don’t attend very often now but am still a member so will pop in from time to time.
Northampton Literature Group (NLG) meets at the University of Northampton Park Campus, Northampton on the first Tuesday of every term-time month (and takes a break when the campus does). I was Chair 2013 to 2014 but I am now solely a member although I won’t go often because of my other commitments.
The homework for July 1st was to analyse a short story (which will be read out at the session) when Mike then took over the session for tasks and discussions. The writing circle now meets again on 7th October (coinciding with the university’s opening dates).
The Poetry Circle is also on its summer break (while the university is closed) and will meet again on 21st October and will be run by Len Driver. The homework for that is to write 1-4 limericks from the following starts:
- A publisher went off to France
- The fabulous Wizard of Oz
- There was a young writer called Smith
- Said Shakespeare, “I fear you’re mistaken
NLG membership is currently just £10 a year (with no meeting fee as we’re not currently charged for the room) and that gets you into the writing group (first Tuesdays), reading group (second Tuesdays) and poetry group (third Tuesday), all at the same venue term-time (we don’t run in the summer months, as mentioned above). However, the venue will likely change by October and will no longer be free (as the University has proposed charging us £80 a session!). Details of new venue tba.
NLG also has a theatre group but this is an extra fee of £10, see the NLG website for details.
The current venue is The University of Northampton at Boughton Green Road, Northampton NN2 7AL. We usually meet in room 110 (or 108 next door) in the Sulgrave building, behind the main reception. The car park has a barrier so press the intercom button, say you are with the writing group and you will be let in. There is one exit (at the Moulton Park Industrial Estate end of the campus) for the which the barrier is usually up but note it is exit only (you will likely damage your tyres if you try to enter that entrance).
** NLG has a yearly Flash Fiction competition from 2013 and I’m Head Judge again for 2014 – this closes end June. **
Northants Writers’ Ink meets 7.00-10pm, every 3rd Monday in Wellingborough at: The Friends Meeting House, St John Street, WELLINGBOROUGH NN8 4LG
- The first meeting is free and then £2 a session or £30 a year (saving £4).
- Every meeting includes at least two activities such as: – a writing challenge, set by members – a discussion of a literary or writing topic, led by members.
- A calendar of topics can be found at http://www.northantswritersink.net/meetings–contact.html.
- For more information, please contact Mike Richards at: Northantswritersink@outlook.com.
(I won’t be attending as I teach on a Monday evening)
Towcester Writers Group has been running since January 2012 and meets 7.30pm-9.30pm every third Wednesday evening (I’m not able to go often because I teach Wednesdays). The 2014 calendar is as follows (OM = Open Mic night, reading out a theme or work-in-progress):
January 15th: Writing a radio play Tuesday February 25th (note date change): Image prompt – What does the universe look like? March 19th: Prompt – The ocean April 16th: Workshop evening on a novel’s first page May 21st: Prompt – The photo through the letterbox June 18th: The diary
- July 16th: Pre-wedding jitters
- August 20th: Sleepwalking
- September 17th: Workshop – the writing process
- October 15th: Horror and Halloween theme
- November 19th: Guest speaker – Martin Brocklebank, writing tutor
- December 17th: Christmas Party Night
Unless otherwise specified, the cost for all other meetings is £3 including refreshments. TWG’s website is www.towcesterwriters.weebly.com, they’re also on Facebook and group lead Louise Gibney is also on Twitter (and you can click here for her website). I’m also listed on their Meet our Writers page.
(I won’t be attending as I teach on a Wednesday evening)
Other Northamptonshire writing groups:
If you live near Corby, there’s ‘Inkshed’. I don’t know when / where they meet but you can write to The Secretary, 32 Garston Road, Corby, Northants NN18 8NH for details. Another Wellingborough one is Wellingborough Writers c/o The Secretary, 15 Vicarage Close, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire NN8 5ES, and near Wellingborough is Rushden-based Nene Valley Writers, c/o The Secretary, 7 St. James’ Close, Rushden, NN10 6DR.
As well as being morgenwriteruk on Twitter, I also tweet about the groups I’m involved in at NtonWritingGrps and if you’d like further information on any of these groups, or have questions about belonging to or setting up a writing group, then do let email me. I blogged on the topic in March 2012.
Tips for running your own writing group
- Decide upon the purpose of your group – the fortnightly NWG is a critique-only group so each member reads their work (providing a typed copy per person for those of us who like to ‘red pen’). NLG only meets once a month and is a mixture of critiquing homework and 2+ writing on the spot exercises.
- Where will you host it? Hiring rooms can be costly – remember you have to make a profit or at least guarantee to break even. NWG charges £5pa for admin costs (postage, paper etc) and £3 per person per attendance. We downsized our room because we needed six people minimum and while we usually have more, we found our funds depleting on some occasions. If you make a profit you can hire speakers. You can host your group at your house (I recommend charging £1+ per person towards refreshments / heating / lighting) but better still, take it in turns so you don’t have to charge and it’s fairer on everyone.
- When to have your meetings? Do you want to meet once a week, once a fortnight or once a month (some groups meeting even less frequently)? The group I use to run used to meet every Monday night (I teach Monday nights), NWG meets every Thursday evening, NLG on the first Tuesday of the month and TWG every third Wednesday of the month (I teach Wednesday evenings). All four groups meet from 7.30pm to 9.30pm and two hours is usually sufficient for everyone to read their writing. Obviously pick an evening (or morning / afternoon if your members don’t have day jobs) that everyone can do. This is likely to be easier said than done. Ask that they contact the person in charge (or hosting the relevant meeting if different) if they can’t make any meeting.
- Who’s in charge? If you have one venue for ever meeting then it’s advisable to agree on who will be in charge. Don’t pick someone who will be power-mad but someone who can ensure you make the best use of your time.
- How to critique? It’s no good telling your members that they’re writing is brilliant and needs no changes. Be brave – tell them if something doesn’t work but tell them (gently) why it doesn’t work and remind them that any critique they receive is personal opinion, they don’t have to agree.
- Who goes first? You should take it in turns to go first and in the NWG group we write down (on a notebook that does the rounds at the beginning of the session) what we are going to read out e.g. name, title, whether it’s a short story, poem or novel extract. The member running can then decide who goes first and either run in order or if there are several of the same format (e.g. a few poems), can alternate formats.
- How to split up the time? The fairest way is to divide the time you have by the number of members attending. That said, a poem would usually take less time to feedback on than a novel extract (and I’d recommend limiting those to 2,000 words a piece) so if you make a list of members’ contributions in advance, you can start with the shorter pieces and see what time you have left for longer pieces. I don’t recommend always leaving the novelists until last though because they will, rightly, feel less important. You may want to start with reading out information e.g. competitions etc.and if you have time, have a ten-minute nature / refreshment break midway.
- Some writing groups email their writing in advance so that members can prepare their feedback and either email back then discuss generally or specifically on the evening. This is a great idea for saving time during the meeting especially where there are a large number of members, and helps those members who are unable to attend all the meetings. The meetings can then be split time-wise equally as the extracts don’t need to be read out but each member can have a fairer time for feedback. Any time remaining can then be spent writing on the spot (see Ideas for examples) or discussions for how the writers can develop their novels ongoing (so having synopses handy would be useful).
- What to take with you – paper, at least two pens (in case one doesn’t work), a clock in case the venue doesn’t have one (all mobiles tell the time), refreshments (if they venue doesn’t have one), any helpful literature you may feel the group will benefit from (e.g. competition information etc). Anyone reading out (you may have members who have no current works in progress but are just happy to sit and listen / give feedback.
- Refreshments – if you use a hireable venue, check what facilities they have e.g. power points, kitchen equipment, sink etc. Anything required should either be the responsible of one person (with any expenses paid) or the members taking it in turns. Alternatively, each member brings their own refreshments.
- How official do you need to be? Both NWG and NLG have yearly AGMs with Chair (currently myself in both instances), Deputy Chair, Treasurer and Secretary, but TWG and another group I used to run don’t. TWG and myself (on behalf NWG, NLG and the group I used to run) are members of NAWG (see top of the page for details) and so receive useful information which we distribute to our members.
- Members-only competition – NWG runs a members-only short story competition every autumn where we read out a 2,000-word maximum short story. There are no copies (unless there are members who are hard of hearing) and no critique. Each story is marked out of ten with a member not taking part (or two who are) with the winning top three stories winning small amounts of money (assuming you have the funds) of £10 / £7.50 / £5.
- Online representation – if you have someone in your group who has knowledge of compiling a blog or website, ask them if they’ll create a blog and maintain it for you. Hopefully it will only take them time but you’d need to pay them expenses, e.g. the cost of a website name if they didn’t go with a generic like …wordpress.com, unless they were particularly generous – or I can build you a WordPress blog for £50 / €60 / $75.
- Have I forgotten anything? If there’s anything else you’d like to know (and that I can add here), do email me. I also blogged on the topic in March 2012.