Debbie LaFleiche: Effective Writing Groups

you currently in a writing group and/or critique group but not getting what you
need? Do you want to be in a group but can’t find one? How do you decide
whether to join an existing group or create your own? How do you keep a
long-running group fresh? Here, Debbie LaFleiche tells why she’s teaching a three-hour 49 Writers workshop to address questions like these.

I was an MFA student I didn’t think much about writing groups.  I didn’t have to.  I had a ready-made, every Monday from 6 to 9
p.m., group of other MFA students.  It
was called “class.”  By the last year I
was no longer taking Writing Workshop and instead concentrating getting the
thesis written.  Three of us who were
slated to graduate in May formed what we called a thesis group to help each
other write the dreaded essay putting our creative work into a literary context.  Both groups worked because in May, sure
enough, I walked across the stage to receive my shiny new MFA diploma. 

forward a decade.  Despite resolving
every January to get back to writing, I hadn’t produced a single creative word
(except maybe the resume I sent out after I graduated where being a secretary
for 2 years at film and photo processing lab turned into being a long-time,
highly committed office manager and sales associate at fast-paced San Diego photo
arts studio).  As the years ticked by
with a big fat zero in the number of creative words written in during the year,
I started to wonder if the whole writing thing was more of a silly fantasy than
an achievable dream. 

something happened.  A friend from the
MFA program moved back to town.  We got
together for coffee and at some point she asked the simplest question.  She asked, “Have you thought about giving
writing another try?”  I still can’t
explain how or why it triggered something inside me.  But it did. 
It did what 10 years of New Year’s Resolutions hadn’t.

started writing again.  It was much like
a child learning to walk.  Slow and,
sometimes, painful.  At first, I met my
friend for coffee once a week and we would write for two hours.  Later, I added another day a week on my
own.  Then a couple times a week.  Then most days a week.  Before I knew it, I had 10,000 words, 20,000
words and the words kept coming. 

scary as it was to be writing again, it was scarier still to realize I needed
to find a literary community.  Without
the crutch of an MFA program, I had no idea how or where to find this community.  It took a few months (and another New Year’s
Resolution) to decide to start at the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference.  There I met a woman I felt a connection to
when we discovered we both worked in nonprofit organizations and were writing
in the same genre.  I went out on limb—at
least it felt like it at the time—and asked if she was in being in a writers’
group.  She was.  So I asked if she wanted to start one.  She did. 

forward another 5 years.  I’m happy and
proud to report the group is still going strong.  There have been lessons along the way.  Transitions too.  In fact, earlier this summer the woman I
started the group with decided it was time to move on from the group. 

July I went to another writers’ conference where I had a
manuscript consult.  Writer and teacher,
David Corbett’s feedback was similar to that of my group.  If I ever needed it (and I didn’t), it was
confirmation of how valuable and, most of the time, how spot-on my group was in
their suggestions for improvement in my writing.  I left that conference with an even deeper
appreciation of the micro literary community I had created.

you want to create your own group or improve the functionality of the one you
are currently in?  Come to my class
dedicated to answering the question of how you create and sustain a writing
group (link to the registration page?) 
Below is a sampling of questions you will be able to answer for yourself
at the end the session:

  • What
    are the differences between concept, writing and critique groups?  Which one is right for me
  • What
    should the make-up of my group be?  Is
    there an ideal member number?  Should we
    all be writing in the same genre?
  • Does
    there need to be a group leader?
  • When
    is it time to recruit new members?  When
    is it time to fire current members? 
    What’s the best way to do both?
  • How
    should we structure our time together? 
  • Should
    I consider an internet writing community? 
    What are the pros and cons of an internet group vs. a face-to-face
  • How
    do I improve my critiquing skills?  How
    do I ensure I’m getting what I need from the group’s feedback? 
The class will be Saturday, October 5, from 9 a.m. to noon.  Who knows? 
You might even leave the class with the beginnings of your own group.

DEBBIE LaFLEICHE has her BA in English from New York
University (NYU) and her MFA in Creative Writing from UAA. Her short
stories and essays have appeared in Passages North, Under the Sun, Reunions
Magazine, Aura Literary Arts Review, Spindrift, Owen Wister Review,
and other literary publications. She has lived in Anchorage for 20 years and
has been CFO of YWCA Alaska for the past eleven. Earlier this year, she
completed her first mystery novel, January
Resolution, receiving plenty of insightful feedback from her own writing
group during the two years it took to write.
Scroll to Top