Writing Groups: An Inside Look

By Joe Novara

 

Critique groups are important for regular feedback, for providing an audience as you move along a plot line, for hearing the cadence of your writing when another reads your copy aloud. More simply, a writing group is an excuse to produce copy whether you feel like it or not.  The demand to turn out a piece for the group pushes you past the occasional, overpowering desire to express deepest, anguished feelings and instead makes you work as a craftsman who can produce as the job requires. You become a
professional instead of an emotional amateur.

There must be remarkable variations on the format and style of writing/critique groups. Here is how my weekly group of six writers proceed for our two-hour sessions every Monday morning.

Reading: Each of us takes a turn reading aloud from the day’s offering of about five pages double spaced. We provide copies for all. Some of us find it helpful to hear the syntax and flow of our writing by asking someone else to read for us. We aim for 15-20 minutes each for reading and critique.

Introduction: If a section of a novel is being read, some summary of plot to date is helpful.  If the participant has certain issues that he or she wants addressed, that’s provided as well. Introductions often include intended audience, format, and possible publication destination.

Non-stop reading: The piece should be read through without stopping for remarks.

Listener involvement: During the reading, listeners underline, circle and make notes in the margin of their copy.

Non-stop critique: When the piece has been read, the writer is expected to hear out the comments from each listener before responding.

Comments: We always try begin with the positive before moving on to suggestions for improvement. Our group seldom has simple grammar and spelling errors. But any proof reading is appreciated. The bulk of criticism will be on form and content, clarity, continuity, and the like.

Writers response: Writers will ask for clarification or amplification of comments, being careful not to get defensive or argumentative. In the end, we realize that it's the writer's call—that ultimate decisions are made by the writer and are to be respected. Our critique group is not meant to serve as an editor or writing instructor. We offer observations on how the piece comes across to us—the kind of feedback authors seldom receive from the readers of their published works. It’s up to the writer to adjust, or not, to that feedback.

Apart from the close friendship and discussion that follows from sharing our craft, our writing group serves as a goad to keep working. As interesting as our companion’s stories are—at times feeling like we are a book club reading six books at once and don’t want to miss an episode—we don’t enjoy showing up empty handed. It’s not much of a Bring-a- Dish-to- Pass party if we don’t bring something to share. Consequently, we feel the pressure to keep churning out copy which isn’t all bad.

 

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Joe Novara, a retired corporate trainer and writing instructor, has published his nine-book My First Horse young adult series through Story Shares. You can read the first of these books here.

In addition, his adult novel, Come Saturday…Come Sunday, is available through Amazon.

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