How To Run a Writing Group

If you’re wondering how to run a writing group, here’s some tips from our experience that can help you make a success of your critique group.

Running a writing group can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it can also be a tough job. We are Manchester Speculative Fiction, a well-established writing group in Manchester and now we can share our secrets about how to run a writing group.

What is a Writing Group?

The first thing to do is decide what type of writing group you want to run. There are three main types:

  • Critique groups
    • Writers submit or read out a piece of their writing and the group offers their constructive criticism of it.
  • Workshop groups
    • The group does creative writing exercises, aiming to improve their abilities as writers.
  • Networking groups
    • Writers meet to support each other on their journey towards publication, arranging talks and discussions.

Manchester Speculative Fiction is mostly a critique group, although sometimes we do creative writing exercises and as some of us have more experience of publishing than others, we can also support each other.

For more see What is a Writing Group?

How to Start A Writing Group

Here are some steps you can follow to start a writing group:

First decide on the type of writing group you want to run: workshop, critique or networking.

Second, invite people to join the group.

Third, agree a meeting schedule: where and when the meetings will be. Make sure to choose a time and location that works for most people.

Set the rules:  This might include rules around submitting work to meetings, constructive feedback, and confidentiality. See How Manchester Speculative Fiction Operates for our rules.

Celebrate successes with the group. This might include recognising members who have secured publication or received an award for their writing.

Meeting Format

We use the Milford System to run our meetings. It’s a tried and tested way of running creative writing critique groups.

It’s a relatively simple system where everyone reads all the pieces in advance and prepares their critique. Then at the meeting, the attendees sit around a table and one by one deliver their critique without interruption (other than the moderator) and the writer has their chance to respond at the end.

For a more detailed explanation and tips on making the system work, see Milford System.

Social Events

Socialising is important to build a sense of community and friendship within the group. Some things you could consider:

  • Going to the pub after meetings.
  • Social Events
    • E.g. A Christmas party and a summer picnic.
  • Reading nights
  • Book launches
  • Literary Festivals
  • Cinema trips
    • We mostly go to sci-fi and fantasy movies, as we’re a speculative fiction group

Dealing With Difficult People

Some people just can’t help themselves… Issues we’ve had include people who:

  • Couldn’t understand what was an acceptable submission to a speculative fiction group (see What is Speculative Fiction? for an explanation).
  • Insisted we changed the day and time we meet because it didn’t suit them.
  • Couldn’t understand what a constructive critique was.
    • Being far too negative, to the point of telling people to “give up”.
    • Wanted to talk about politics, not writing.
  • Started a vendetta with another group member… and eventually with the entire group.
  • Just couldn’t shut up or sit still for long enough to get through a meeting.

There’s no easy way to handle really disruptive behavior.

Sometimes people just don’t realise they’re disrupting the group, and if you talk to them, they’ll adjust. But people who are seriously disruptive seem to get worse if you try to explain the problem.

In the end, if someone won’t listen, the only solution is to ban them from the group.


In any writing group, over time people drop out, often because they move away from the area or just can’t make it any more. People also sometimes get discouraged and stop writing. Occasionally, they even find writing success and fame and get too busy with their writing career to have time to attend.

So, any writing group needs a flow of new members, and publicising the group is important.

Some ways of making your writing group easy to find are:

  • A website with a contact form
  • A Facebook group
  • Twitter
  • Posters in local libraries and arts centres


As well as the regular attendees, our group is the centre of a wider community of people who come along occasionally, mostly come to the social events, comment on social media, or are otherwise loosely associated with the group.

Things like a website, a Facebook group, a Discord channel, a WhatsApp group and a group email are good ways of staying in touch with the wider community.

We’ve also found our Discord channel a good way of having discussions like Hey MSF!

Vetting New Members

Some groups ask potential new members to submit work before being accepted that shows they’ve reached a certain standard in their writing.

We think vetting is problematic. It’s not very welcoming, especially to beginning writers and people who lack confidence in their ability as writers. It’s exclusive.

We try to be inclusive, and so we don’t vet new members.

Size of Meetings

The trick is to find the goldilocks zone: not too big or too small.

A meeting with more than a dozen attendees is unwieldy. Less than three is barely a meeting at all.

One thing we did as the group became more popular was to have more meetings each month. That meant we could get through more submissions and accommodate more people.

Time and Venue of Meetings

Whatever day and time the group meets, it’s never going to suit everyone. Similarly with the venue’s location.

The problem with venues is finding one that’s free, or at least cheap, open in the evenings and quiet enough that people can hear each other.

Cafés, libraries, arts centres, pubs and hotels are all possibilities, but cafés and libraries tend to shut too early, and pubs and hotels are often either too noisy or have a hire fee for their ‘function room’. That leaves arts centres, but they aren’t that common.

It’s also possible to meet online, of course, but real life meetings have a very different dynamic to online.

Manchester Speculative Fiction has a hybrid system where we meet online using Discord and in real life in central Manchester.

Need Help?

If you want more advice about running a writing group, or you’d like to join Manchester Speculative Fiction, let us know.

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By Graeme Shimmin

Graeme Shimmin has been a member of the Manchester Speculative Fiction Writing Group since 2012 and edited its first two anthologies. His novels have won, or been listed for, multiple prizes including the Terry Pratchett Prize, YouWriteOn Book of the Year and Arthur C. Clarke Award.