Writing groups can take place in any welcoming community setting that can provide a quiet room with table and chairs.
Usually when a writing group is initiated, participants and the hosting organization arrange for the group to meet weekly for around eight to twelve weeks in order for participants to engage in a process of generating, developing, and then revising a selection of stories for publication. In some cases writing groups have been ongoing in a community setting for years, if that is what participants want to do and the resources are available to do so. In some cases workshops have been as short as four weeks; this is usually the case when the workshop is inserted into another adult educational program, so that participants already know each other and have a strong sense of community.
Writing workshops can be initiated in many ways.
In some cases a community organization publicizes the formation of a writing group via flyers, word of mouth, organizational meetings, and the like. In other cases, an existing group within an organization or adult educational setting decides to initiate a writing workshop for its members/participants. Writing workshops are always free, participation is voluntary, and the purpose is for participants to use personal narrative writing to share stories from their experiences with others in their community, develop their writing. If they choose to, they can also publish their stories in a magazine that will be circulated within and beyond the community.
Writing groups usually have 3 – 15 participants, and group size may vary each week because attendance isn’t required; the ideal size is 4 – 8.
Each writing workshop has a similar structure.
Each workshop session generally lasts one-and-a-half to two hours. The sessions follow a similar process each week except for the final two or three weeks, during which time participants divide into small groups in order to support each other in editing the writings that they have selected to include in the Real Conditions magazine.
On the the first class, participants are introduced to each other and to the writing workshop’s mission and purpose, share some stories, and then are invited to do a bit of “free” writing guided by a simple, open-ended prompt. They are then invited to read and discuss what they have written, so that they begin to become comfortable writing and sharing. On this first day the workshop facilitator models a celebratory, encouraging approach to feedback that emphasizes identifying points of insight in the story, engaging passages, or questions participants have for the writer about their story and experience. After a few participants have shared their stories, the facilitator collects the writings (assuming the writers are willing to share), and lets participants know s/he will type up the stories for the next session.
For each subsequent session, the workshop begins with participants receiving typed copies of the writing they produced at the end of class the week before, along with their originals on which the facilitator has offered encouraging and dialogic feedback. Writers are invited to read their stories to the group. The group is asked to listen attentively to the story and to pay attention to facets of the story they find interesting or striking, because they will be offering feedback about the story’s content and style. This process often sparks further discussion and sharing of stories, and prompts ideas for that session’s writing topics. Anywhere from 15-25 minutes at the end of each writing session is devoted to writing;
Writers can write in the language they are most comfortable with.
If a group is to be held in a community of speakers of languages other than English, the teacher should be comfortable in the writers’ native language so that writers can write in language of their choosing. If the group consists of speakers/writers of more than one language, there should be someone available to translate. Running groups bilingually might seem tedious, but it is actually a lot of fun, and very conducive to bridging cultural divides. If the writing workshop is part of an ESL class with speakers of many languages, participants often assist each other in their native languages as they write in English.