Thinking of running a writing group? Already organise workshops but want to enhance them? Here are a few top tips from our community.
Christina Christou says that “I always overprepare and have lots of prompts in case something doesn't quite fit in with the group dynamic.” She often starts with an acrostic poem of people’s name and that acts as a good ice breaker. Even simple activities can bring out a huge amount and encourage people to share.
There are lots of skills that a facilitator needs. “I've been attending lots of facilitator meetups which have been really useful for tips,” says Claire Pearce. The main things that come up repeatedly are including everyone, mixing everyone up and giving them time to share “which I believe, is where the magic really happens.”
If you’re trying online Elaine Konopka recommends leaving enough time to work out the inevitable technical kinks. “Otherwise, those kinks can eat a pretty big hunk out of your writing time. So either announce a slightly longer time for your workshop to include this margin, or encourage attendees to show up 10 or 15 minutes before the start time -- and do so yourself as the facilitator. Much less stress this way!”
It can be very easy to underestimate just how much time you need, and up rushing just to fit everything in. It’s much better to plan for a longer workshop and give people extra time for discussion at the end – or even let them slip off early! Francesca Baker describes this as ‘community time.’ “If I finish early I just say something about how an important part of being a writer is the connections you build with others, and offer people the chance to stick around and have a chat if they feel comfortable.”
One facilitator recommends using a version of This Is Just To Say by William Carlos Williams. Ask them to write a note to you (no names) beginning ‘I want you to know....’ so you can identify any triggers/issues/neurodiversities etc at the beginning. On the back of this you can also be flexible. If someone is nervous then create work which can be used as a group rather than asking for individual readings.
End on a light-hearted exercise. It’s important that you don’t leave people in a troubled place. Consider reading an uplifted poem, or asking them to write down three things they are grateful for.
Writing for wellbeing can bring up difficult feelings for some people, and leave them feeling vulnerable. Have some ideas of places that you can signpost them to, such as Mind or Samaritans, should things feel difficult. And think about yourself. It can be very challenging running a words for wellbeing group, so take good care of yourself.
Collect feedback, either in the form of quantitative before and after ratings, or anecdotes. Use it learn from, reassure yourself about things that went well, and help identify areas that you can alter for next time.