Step #3: Selecting Members
Once you have a bunch of people interested in your group, how do you select members? At first you may not need to worry about this question–you probably won’t have a lot of people to choose from. But after a while, you will start to get more and more interested parties and you’ll find you can’t say yes to everyone. Not to mention that in the first few months, your group will be in flux, with people coming and going as your group’s personality comes into focus. So when someone contacts you, how do you know if you should welcome them to your group?
a) Ask for a writing sample
When we were first starting up our group, I was reticent to turn people away. Who was I to judge other people’s writing styles and abilities? And luckily, for a while it didn’t matter and we ended up with some great members who have been the core of Courtyard Critiques. Eventually though, when were looking for more members, we started to attract people who weren’t quite ready for a critique group. Sometimes their submissions were just too rough to be comprehensible to everyone else. Others simply weren’t as serious about their writing and didn’t have the same goals as everyone else (read: they were never prepared for group and didn’t care about deadlines). These people inevitably ended up dropping out of the group by their own accord.
Finally, we ended up instituting a 1-2 page writing sample requirement for people entering the group. It may feel mean at first, but you are saving both your group and the new member the hassle of figuring this out the hard way over a period of several months. You can also make sure that someone actually has a writing sample to submit and isn’t joining the group prematurely. You can also look at the subject of their work and see if it fits in with your group’s requirements. You might also be able to make a judgement call about the quality of their writing, but be kind–the whole point of the group is to polish the work after all!
b) Have a trial run
The next thing we did was to start inviting members to a trial meeting. At the meeting new members don’t get to submit, but they do critique other people’s work and participate in the meeting. This is helpful for a number of reasons. First, they get to find out if they can actually make it to the meeting, or if it turns out to be farther away than they anticipated (or at an inconvenient time or whatever). Sometimes real life just gets in the way of starting new things. Second, they get to find out if critiquing other people’s work is too time consuming. And third, by not allowing them to submit their work the first time around, you ensure that they don’t get a critique and then disappear (this isn’t selfishness–some people just aren’t ready to accept criticism of their work).
So that’s all there is to it! Easy-peasy! Follow these three steps and repeat as necessary to form the writing group of your dreams.