Monday, May 6, 2013

Group (Not therapy)

              For me, our critiquing group is the difference in producing a piece of crap and having a chance to produce something I can be truly proud of.  I was a member of a group before this one.  It met every week, but we didn’t critique each other’s work.  Kind of a waste of time, right?  Sort of like going fishing with a baseball bat.  Or going to Hooter’s to watch TV, or…well, you get the idea.   We simply wandered around the table and talked about what we were working on, trying to keep up each other’s morale.  Fine to some extent, but not what’s needed to the inexperienced writer.  I’m beyond blessed to be in a group of around 15 incredible people of different backgrounds.  We have a Doctor, a Lawyer, teachers, housewives, businesspeople, scientists, and three who have taught or who are teaching creative writing at the college level.  What I learn at each session by being critiqued and observing how others are critiqued is as if I am in a college level creative writing course myself.  The five of us in this blog offer a unique perspective coming from our own journey.   

                You know, one thing about our group I’m most proud of, is everyone shows up each time, whether they are being reviewed or not.  Due to time constraints, we allow a maximum of four pieces to be critiqued in an evening, with 25 pages max to each piece.  With that rule, a person may not be able to have their own piece reviewed for weeks, but we keep coming.  These people are incredible.  The true testament to our group, I think.  They do it for two reasons, I believe.  First, for the love of their craft.  Second, they come to help their friends.

If you don’t belong to a group, try to make every effort to locate one in your area.  Contact your library, your school, your local university, etc.   If there is not one formed, make every effort to form one yourself.  You can bet there are others in your community with the same desire.  The next step is rules.  David is our leader.  He handles the group and the rules.  I’m sure he’ll cover the rules in a future post, but let me just state there has to be structure.  Except for our Congress, there has to be order and civility.

One last thing you’ll need to bring to the party Is a thick skin.  Lots of it.  We’ll cover this more later too, but I wanted to mention this now, because it’s important, and can’t be stressed enough.  Our group meets the first and third Wednesday nights of each month, and when I first started, it would take two weeks for the swelling to go down.  I stopped coming to the group more than once for months at a time because I didn’t know how to handle what they were dishing at me.  I didn’t know what they were telling me, how to process it, what to do with it, or how to politely tell them that they were wrong.  The problem was they were right.  Oh, I could go on and on…and I will…later.


  1. Another thing to add, Keith, to the reasons why we participate in a writer's group is to learn from the mistakes made by other writers. This is not cynical by any means since, at least in my case; many of the mistakes made by other writers are the same mistakes that I am making, whether it is grammatical, structural, or POV shifting, and so on. Such errors are strangely hidden when I read my own work. Hmm... I must be a legend in my living room.

  2. Spot on! I think of it not so much as learning from others mistakes, but simply that as we read and recognize those "mistakes," we WILL get better at judging our own writing and making those tough calls...eventually. BTW, as for our writing workshop, I like to think of our having a set of guidelines, rather than rules, with that word's implication of black and white inflexibility. We've adapted our guidelines over the years as the group has expanded, keeping in mind that, in our case, with our sponsorship by the Indiana Writers Center, we're open to any member of the IWC with an interest and a willingness to do the work of reading and providing honest feedback.

  3. I hear what David is saying about guidelines versus rules. But whether we are talking about rules or guidelines, writing or writing groups, the parameters are generally there for a reason. In writing, we have guidelines--"rules" we might call them--because they generally work--like avoiding tense shifts without good transitions. The same thing goes for writing groups and pretty much anything that humanity has been doing for any length of time. Doesn't mean that we don't break the rules (notice the dropped subject here for grammatical emphasis). Still, we have parameters to learn the established structures.
    Then we break them. Respect them, certainly, but break them for the sake of making a point, absolutely.

  4. I enjoyed breaking rules when I had to write poetry. Also, whenever I wear my black leather jacket and shades.

  5. We have rules? What are these guidelines of which you speak?

    Writing is therapy. Well, it always has been for me anyway.