The Under Ground Writing Project

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What I Learned About Writing From . . .

Posted by Debbie Meldrum on April 15, 2014 at 9:35 PM

Critique Groups


I have been a member of three different critique groupsover the past 12 or so years. Which, I hear, makes me pretty lucky. Somewriters bounce around a lot more than that. I met all the members of my second,Creek Writers Council, at the first one, Colorado Springs Fiction WritersGroup. Right now I’m working one on one with another person who was a member ofboth of my previous groups. Many lessons were picked up along the way. Here aresome of them.

 

1. If you have to explain it . . .

 

I've been on both sides of this one. A reader will say, "I don'tunderstand how George went from standing on a hill in Italy to hanging from a flagpole in Quebec." Once the writer starts explaining that, "Well,you see, he boarded a blimp in Tuscany, then he flew to Madrid where he hopped a train for Calais . . ." Yeah. But if it's not on the page, the reader doesn't know this. And you, as the writer, don't get to sit down with every reader to explain that. At least you hope not.

 

Jenny calls it "getting it on the page." What I see left off the page most often is setting. Where am I? What's it like there? How's the weather? All things that the writer has in his head when he's writing, but that he needs to show me as the reader.

 

I'm tried my best to overwrite my submissions. Most of my critique group found it easier to show where to cut than trying to figure out what was left out. I didn't always get there, but it was great exercise

 

2. Don't assume everyone knows what you do.

 

Not everyone has the same specialized knowledge. And the terms from that specialized area may not be easy to decode for someone not in the club.

 

Dancers, musicians, computer programmers, accountants, teachers, doctors, etc.all use terms that people outside of those realms may or may not know. Or it may mean something different to other specialties. A paradiddle in dance sounds like a paradiddle in drumming, but one is executed with the feet and the other with the hands.

 

This is a hard one, because once you learn something, it can be difficult to remember that you didn't always know it. This is where critique groups from diverse backgrounds are essential.

 

3. No two people read exactly alike.

 

Everyone approaches submissions in his own way. Some read straight through the first time, then go back and dissect. Some mark as they go and only read once. And each person has his own focus for critiques.

 

I've seen puns be a pet peeve for one reader and a delight for another. Some will add a comma to your sentence and others are just as likely to mark one out. I once had a woman tell me that I had a male character describe a room as only a woman would. The scene didn't bother the man in our group at all.

 

All of this can be really frustrating. But it is good practice for when your work goes out into the wider world. Get used to people misreading your work, your intention.

 

I'm learning to weed through the feedback so I can determine what to act on and what to leave as is. Notice I didn't say "ignore." I do listen to and read all feedback. I just don't always agree with all of it.

 

4. It's your work.

 

That's the biggest lesson from working with critique groups. Your work has to reflect you. Your voice. Your story. Your style.

 

We shook up how we ran the second critique group, because the original format was no longer working for some of us. It's not that it was wrong, just that we are at a different place in our writing. The strength of the group was tested and held. We discussed the issues and made a change that everyone could work with.

And even though we don't meet as a critique group any more, we're all still friends, which is huge. And we still read each other's work when asked.

 

I've learned that I need to speak up when something isn't working. Because of Lesson #3. It's my work, and I'm the one who needs to take responsibility for making it the best it can be.

With the help of my friends.

 

 


Categories: Writing Groups, Critiquing How-To, Writing Process

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