Over the past two years, attendance at our critique group meetings had fizzled. At one point, we averaged 6 to 8 people per meeting. Lately? Two.
It was clear that something needed to change. Maybe the day of our meetings was to blame. I asked other members and yes Thursday had become less convenient but the time was still fine. So we moved the meetings to Wednesday evenings. At first, it looked like that fix had worked because we had three or four people per meeting. Then it crawled back down to 2. We had even had 2 new members but with a schedule change one of them couldn’t make it, but he did say that 4:30 would be much better.
Again, I asked various members. Would earlier in the day work? Surprisingly, many of them said yes. So now we are meeting at 4:30. This past meeting we were back up to six members including one who had returned (evenings no longer worked for her) and a new person.
There are a variety of reasons that attendance may be flagging and, of course, the fix will vary according to the reason.
Does the day/time still work for most people? This one can be trickier than you might think to diagnose. Many of the people who came to our meetings swore that evenings were still better. They said that, but they didn’t come. You may have to try more than one new day/time to find one that consistently works.
Do you still have a genuine critique group? Socialization is well and good, but your group will only hold the attention of serious writers if you critique. This means managing the chit-chat. Give everyone fifteen or twenty minutes to chat and then get to work.
Is there a shark in the waters? Sadly, a single member can sometimes be the problem. If you have someone in your group who pulls every conversation back to themselves or who lashes out when a manuscript doesn’t match their views of science or politics, some policing may be in order. It is never easy to tell a fellow adult to use their nice words or shush, but sometimes it is necessary.
Do you just need a pick me up? If everyone is feeling a big jaded, start each meeting with a fun writing exercise. Or bring cupcakes to celebrate the birthday of a noteworthy author. Or you might take a field trip to a local archive or library.
Is the group too small? Once a group reaches a certain tiny size, it doesn’t function well. Three regular members mean that an absence takes it down to one or two. Put out a call with local writers groups. Or get your group listed on a web site. I brazenly introduce myself to writers at various meetings and workshops and invite them to our group.
Sometimes your group will need a little TLC to keep it in peak performance. It’s well worth the effort.