Odegaard Writing and Research Center

Start Your Own Writing Circle

Although writing is often considered a solitary endeavor, writing together with a group of colleagues or peers can be a great way of making writing more manageable and fun!

At the OWRC, we offer regular weekly Open Writing Circles, which you can join at any time on a drop-in basis. These groups provide 90 minutes of writing time with peers, as well as opportunity to check in with other writers, set goals, ask questions, and assistance from an OWRC staff facilitator as needed. This can be a great option if you are looking for an occasional writing group or if you like facilitated sessions. However, independent writing circles can also be a terrific way to mold your group writing experience to suit your writing needs, focus, or interests. Here are a few easy steps to get your circle off and rolling:

1. Find Your Focus

Every writing circle has its own set of interests and focal points depending on the group working within it. These can vary based on the genre, topics, or length of the pieces that writers are working on. A writer’s needs and process can vary widely depending on the type of writing they are doing. Before starting your own writing circle, consider what you and your circle-mates are looking for from your circle. By focusing the circle on meeting these shared expectations and needs, you can help ensure that the time you spend together is productive — whatever that looks like for you. Here are a few things to consider:

  • What kind of participation are looking for from your circle? — Are you interested in an accountability group, in which you gather, discuss goals, and write independently? A feedback group, in which you read and provide feedback on one another’s work? A support group, in which you share and discuss your ongoing writing process and experiences?
  • How much time would you like to spend in your writing circle meetings? — What are the minimum and maximum limits for you to feel that you have gained something from participating in a writing circle meeting?
  • What are the genres or disciplines you will you be working in? — Is this important to how the writing circle will run? Is it important that everyone shares the same general disciplinary understandings about genre and format, or would you prefer an multidisciplinary group?

2. Identify a Virtual Meeting Space

Once you have established some core ideas about what kind of writing circle you are interested in, determine how your group will meet with one another, keeping in mind current restrictions and guidelines on in-person gatherings. For safety and ease, a virtual meeting space is often the best option. This can range from a shared cloud drive, a recurring Zoom meeting, or a virtual workspace in a collaborative software such as Slack. As you are deciding what approach works best for you, be sure to keep the following in mind:

  • Accessibility
    • Is the platform readily accessible? What are the barriers associated with this platform (e.g., lack of availability, cost, features, etc.), and will these impede participation from writers who might otherwise want to participate?
  • Communication style
    • Does this space or platform allow you to communicate and/or collaborate in a way that meets the needs and expectations of your group?
  • Comfort with the platform
    • Is this a platform that writers are likely to feel comfortable using in terms of familiarity, usability, and security?

3. Reach Out

Now that you have sketched out a general format for your writing circle, start reaching out to peers and colleagues that might also be interested. You can do this personally or put out a call to prospective participants through relevant mailing lists or forums. These could be internal within a department or university, or could be distributed through professional association forums or working groups that you might be part of.

4. Set a Schedule

One of the cornerstones of a successful writing group is a regular schedule, so it is important to set a schedule that works for your core circle members. Online schedulers such as Doodle and When2Meet offer some quick and easy ways to poll your circle to find windows of time that work for everyone.

As you work on setting a schedule, also consider the frequency of your meetings. How often should your writing circle meet? If you aren’t sure yet, try beginning with weekly or biweekly meetings. Depending on how your circle is feeling, you can always ramp the frequency up or down. 

5. Write, Adapt, Repeat!

Now that you have your circle assembled and agenda set, the only thing left to do is write! Your first few meetings may be a little bumpy, but not to worry. After the first few meetings the group should find its natural flow. If not, work with your circle to tinker and adapt until you find a process that works well for everyone. From there, just write and repeat!

Interested in learning more about forming, structuring, and facilitating group writing for yourself and others? UNC at Chapel Hill has great resources. We also love the resources at National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity. UW has an institutional membership, which allows faculty and graduate students to access resources.