The Under Ground Writing Project

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Patterns

Posted by Ali on September 13, 2012 at 5:25 PM

On Monday, Jenny talked about bullying. She said some really good things and I knew right away that I wanted to build off of her post. I want to talk about group dynamics.

 

Since our group’s last meeting, I’ve been thinking hard about patterns. Most of us have been in the gang for years. When you’ve been reading someone’s work for five years or more, you start thinking in terms of “Susie’s writing is X” and “Rodrigo’s writing is Y.” That means it’s really hard to critique a story on its own, without remembering all of the other stories, all of the other critiques over the years.

 

This is bad.

 

If you’re the one giving the critique, it’s bad because you’re losing focus. You’re seeing what you expect to see from Rodrigo, which may or may not always be what’s there on the page. It means you may be missing stuff. It can also mean that many of your critiques for that person are really similar, even when the stories may not be. Broken record much? Also, this is a personal sin of mine. More on that later.

 

If you’re the one getting the critique, it’s bad because you want to work on this story and make it perfect. You don’t want to hear residual critique from that piece you submitted way back when. This story is the one you want to talk about now. Getting that patterned critique might even make you feel a bit… chewed up.

 

As a writer, I’m fortunate. I’ve pretty much got rhinoceros hide when it comes to feedback and I’ve yet to be bothered by any critique I’ve received from the gang. Also, kudos to the gang because a big part of this is a great reflection on the quality of feedback I consistently receive from them.

 

As someone critiquing, rhinoceros hide is not the best thing to have. I have been known to be a bit, well, since I’m the one writing this, I’m going to say blunt. There are some who, I believe, might use more colorful language. But, you see, at the end of the day, I’m genuinely trying to offer helpful feedback so the writer can improve their piece and make it awesome. I come from a good place, I swear, but sometimes a tap is better than a sledgehammer.

 

Also, I’ve been having a difficult time separating pattern from individual piece. So, this month, I changed the way I construct my critiques. It’s a simple, yet effective, structure. In the past, I’ve just written out comments. I write down what strikes me, as it strikes me, then do a summary at the end.

 

Well, no more! This month, on the back of each piece, I made a big t. On one line, I wrote “Stuff that pulled me in” and beneath it wrote specifics that grabbed me. Cool details, neat world-building, interesting characterization, whatever. On the other line, I wrote “Stuff that didn’t” and beneath it went the things that pulled me out of the story.

 

Bam! Simple, focused, balanced, and just about that specific piece. I think it provides better feedback to the writer than what I’ve done in the past, and I know it made me think harder about my critique and be a better reviewer. I’m hoping the others in the crew like my new approach as much as I do.

Categories: Writing Groups, Patterns, Critiquing How-To

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1 Comment

Reply John Ridge
1:49 PM on September 14, 2012 
Kudos! I'm very interested to see the critiques that this approach yields, and how many people steal it in subsequent months.

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