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Mary Margaret Palmer email at: email@example.com Phone: 206-923-3062
Fanatics: Meets every other Wednesday
at Renton Starbucks. Any genre welcome.
Bring one copy of 1-10 pages of writing and
a notebook. Contact Sheri Harper at firstname.lastname@example.org
or 425-235-4124. Website: www.sfharper.com.
Wed. or Fri. evenings, Poetry and Short Stories,
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Writers/Support Groups and the Process of Peer Critique by Claudia McCormick
Support groups are often the making or breaking of the writer. Finding a critique group that works for you is as important as finding the right agent or publisher. Critique groups dependent upon a dominant personality come and go, but those willing to establish a definite discipline and caring group voice seem to last forever. Such high-spirited groups become self-generating, as energy comes from within, from those willing to give as well as receive. It is from their example, this guide is written.
WHAT THEY ARE ALL ABOUT... When writers gather to read each other's work and to share equally in the evaluation and teaching process, they have formed a critique group. Teacherless groups are not to be confused with fee paid classes taught by certified writing teachers or writers who have become mentors through their published works. However, class background or its equivalent is advisable before joining any critique group. Though small and supportive, the critique group reflects the publishing world at large and must be just as frank. So, if you are new to the critique group, visit first. Don't contribute or comment, just listen to see if this is right for you. Before you join, or if you are starting a group on your own, read this or other critique guidelines first. Then, share your expectations with the group. Successful groups continue this sharing -- discussing progress, exploring ideas and exchanging markets. It doesn’t matter whether you meet weekly, monthly, morning or night. But do meet regularly, funnel your energies into critique, and treat social matters as secondary.
Ten week sessions, with a break or holiday between works well. This sets writing goals and keeps groups from becoming stagnant. Many groups allow newcomers at start-up time only. Others invite sit-ins, but let the group decide who may join. While this sounds restrictive, it isn't. To maximize creative energy, each group must harmonize its inner dynamics, and each addition alters that delicate balance. As a word of caution: never include the negative influence or remain with a group that has an adverse effect on you. And, for best- results, limit size and select a coordinator.
ONE WAY TO DO IT... Here is one method that gives both written and oral critique, is designed to develop writing and editorial skills, and simple as one, two, three. ONE: Since we learn best by 'seeing' what is right, always present work in standard manuscript form. Bring enough copies to share around and limit readings to one chapter, story or article, or three pages of poetry.
TWO: Take turns reading each other's work and moderating the discussion that follows. For variety, do not choose the same reader/moderator each time.
THREE: As writer, listen to both reading and discussion, then, with the help of your moderator, comment or ask questions. As colleague, give both written and oral comments the same care you want others to give you. WHAT
HAPPENS AND HOW IT WORKS YOU THE WRITER Let go. Listen to someone else read your work. See what flows easily and what causes the reader to stumble. Be objective, rather than subjective, as you quietly prepare your mind for the critique ahead. Once the reading begins, do not interrupt -- not even to correct mispronounced words. No matter how difficult, never defend or explain your motives. Instead, listen carefully, waiting until each critique is offered before you speak. Getting the full value or critique is a tandem effort. And going through a moderator acting on your behalf, prepares you to negotiate with your agent or publisher later. When accepting critique, be gracious. If a point is misunderstood, or if the piece is not working well, ask why, and seek solution. Weigh criticism objectively, decide what to incorporate or ignore. You are the writer!
YOU THE READER The purpose of each reading is to 'see' how the piece works on paper. Pretend you are a busy editor; read evenly, at a fairly clipped pace, and remain objective. If you become engrossed, well and good. That is tribute to the writer. When you finish, remain silent. Allow ample time for a thoughtful written critique.
YOU THE MODERATOR Moderating gives you the chance to develop your editorial eye. Treat each piece equally, regardless of its strength, length, or commercial quality. Keep comments salient. See that they are given without temperament and accepted in good humor. Keep conversation moving comfortably and in line with the main objective. If discussion gets out of hand, call order. If questions raised affect salability (i.e., incorrect information or credibility of plot), review them. If irrelevant, politely move on. However, if it is of high interest, let the group decide how to pursue it. Consider forfeiting a critique in the interest of learning, or plan pre-session mini-lessons.
AS YOU CRITIQUE Writing comments before expressing them frames your thoughts, adding to the professional discipline of the group. Mark the manuscript for correction, question or discussion, so the writer returning to the piece later has the full benefit of critique. Quick proof, detail grammar, or make comments you might not want to mention aloud. Remember that our Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of press. As you comment, using your written notes as guide, focus on the writing itself and not your opinion of it. To avoid repetition, either concur with previous remarks or offer a constructive alternative. Do everything possible to help your colleague become a better writer. Be willing to put as much energy into others as you expect to receive in turn. Be supportive but not saccharin, constructive but not critical.
BEYOND THE CRITIQUE Later, take one clean copy and write in all marks from proofed copies. Compile comment slips for overview. Note those you agree with, disregard others. (But save them, as you will see patterns emerge in your development as writer.} Mark appropriate places in your master copy. You are now ready for your next draft.
LOOKINGAHEAD Groups that give as much care and attention to marketing as to reading experience a 1arger percentage of sales. Networking increases market savvy and produces results. With the support of your colleagues, rejections are seen as a natural part of the writing process, and sales become cause for a shared celebration.
MAKING IT HAPPEN It takes both discipline and perseverance to learn the skills of critique. But, above all, it takes kindness. The group that's right for you is the one willing to give you the help you need to reach your full potential. One willing to listen to a work and carry it through to its finished product. One that considers no work finished until it is sold.
The secret in finding a group that works for you is to ask yourself the honest question: HOW MUCH AM I WILLING TO GIVE TO MAKE IT HAPPEN?
ONE APPROACH TO CRITIQUE IS TO QUESTION...HERE ARE SOME TO PROMPT YOUR THINKING. 1. What happened? Where does the story start? Is it logical? Believable? All down on paper? 2. Does it have a strong lead? Well-developed sense of story? Is the conflict clear? The goal meaningful? Does it come to an effective end? Where does it end? 3. Are the words right? Do they suspend disbelief? Say what they mean? 4. Are sentences complete? Original or cliché? Varied? Consistent in style and voice, true to time and place, and easy to read? 5. Is the idea fresh? Stimulating? Informative? Entertaining? Does it have universal appeal? A moment of truth? 6. Does the title work? Is the piece focused? Written to theme? Well structured? Well crafted? Mechanically intact? Complete? 7. Do scenes move the plot along and is each action complete? Do you always know where you are and what is going on? Do you exit and enter scenes in easy transition? Are the dynamics of scene varied? 8. Does it arouse the senses? The passions? Do you identify? Are you involved? 9. Does it make good use a symbol? Imagery? Metaphor? Is it strongly visual? 10. Are characters real? Do they move, think and speak as themselves? Can you tell them apart? Remember them? Are they balanced, or do support characters intrude with stories of their own to tell? 11. Does the main character move the piece along? Does he or she change over the course of the story? Does this change make both intuitive and logical sense? Most of all, do you care? 12. Is this the best way to tell this story? Is the viewpoint focused and controlled? 13. Is dialogue lively? Does it characterize individual speech patterns, beliefs, feelings and behavior? Is it convincing? Succinct? Germane? Does it create the intended mood to achieve its intended goal? 14. Are dialogue and narrative well balanced? Does narrative convey too much information? Too little? Is it easily understood? Is the research accurate? Does it show? 15. Finally, does the story come to an emotionally and intellectually satisfying end? ABOVE ALL, DOES IT SAY WHAT THE AUTHOR WANTS IT TO SAY?