The Mini-MFA: On Making and Managing a Writing Group

Writing is a solitary practice. It requires only the writer and her medium. But between the pen first touching paper and the day of publication are long hours of edits, edits, and more edits. One of the best ways of honing your work before it meets a larger audience is with the help of a writing group. Today we turn to two writers whose work has been shaped by feedback from their workshop groups.

Dika Lam

Dika Lam writes fiction, mostly short stories, and the occasional essay or book review. She’s currently at work on a novel. See samples of her work on The Rumpus and The Nervous Breakdown.

The Group: I belong to what I think of as a mini-MFA program. Every month, we review pages and offer feedback. We’ve shepherded quite a few novels into hardcover, but we also look at short stories, memoirs, and essays.

The Structure: Generally, if we’re looking at a 300-page novel-in-progress, we’re only going to have time to critique one manuscript per meeting. Occasionally, we’ll look at the work of two writers if they’re submitting smaller pieces like essays and short stories.

A Tip: One thing that makes our group work is that we schedule several months in advance and stick to it. We’re fully committed to taking one another’s work seriously, and if we can’t be at a meeting, we send notes.

J. Ryan Stradal and Kitchens of the Great Midwest

J. Ryan Stradal is the author of Kitchens of the Great Midwest and editor-at-large at Unnamed Press in Los Angeles. Visit him on Twitter or check out dates for his book tour, with events ongoing through early fall.

The Groups: I belong to two writing groups — both exclusively fiction, one for short stories & individual chapters, and one for multiple novel chapters/full manuscripts.

The Structure: In the short story group, there are five people, and we convene whenever at least two people have something ready to critique. The novel group meets monthly and the person whose manuscript is under discussion hosts and provides food. My novel group has cycled people through based on their needs & ability to provide work to discuss. Nothing is enforced in this regard, but there’s a general understanding that people will sit out the meetings if they’re not writing or planning to contribute writing. The short story group is much looser — but short stories are less time-consuming to draft.

A Tip: If it’s a novel writing group, and someone is reading your entire sloppy first draft, feed them! And maybe get them a little tipsy!

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