We are going to work through the book Steering the Craft. Each month we will tackle a different exercise, and this will require you to do some reading, some prewriting, and some prereading of other people’s writing so we can effectively use our time for critique and an additional writing exercise in the hour allotted. This type of session, with reading and prework, will only be one of the weekly meetings a month.
Much of what follows was derived from the appendix on peer writing workshops in Steering the Craft, distilled to be useful for the writing group.
In order to respect everyone’s time, and make the most use of our monthly session, we should follow a strictly timed procedure for prework and during the critiquing session. The following process is proposed:
- 2 weeks from the critique session
- Email sent out with which exercise and any reading needed for the exercise.
- Everyone will read and then complete the exercise (see exercise section below)
- 1 week from the critique session, Manuscripts will be emailed to everyone in the critique group.
- Everyone is expected to read every manuscript prior to the critique session and have a good critique ready (see giving critiques below)
- Day of critique session
- 5 minutes introduction, refresh on the rules of the critique
- (30-45minutes) Rounds of critique based on available manuscripts
- 10-15 minute writing exercise (assuming group remains current size)
Doing the exercise
As prescribed in the book, we will follow the directions for the exercise and read the accompanying pages associated with the exercise. This will be included in the schedule.
The exercise is limited to 30 minutes. You should ensure that you finish the exercise within 30 minutes. This provides a deadline to avoid the tendency to gold-plate.
The manuscript should not exceed XX words. This word limit is to be mindful of the time and effort it takes to critique a work. By limiting the word count, it helps ensure that everyone has enough time to read each others manuscripts.
Submit in plain text. Manuscript will be sent out to everyone, but should be provided in plain text. This will allow people to format and/or print according to their own preference for reading.
Late manuscripts will not be critiqued this session. Respecting everyone’s time and effort is important. If you submit a late manuscript, it will not be critiqued this session. Since we meet weekly, but only do full critique sessions once a month, we will do pick up critiques the following week.
This is difficult, so we follow a process. Every person in the ground critiques every manuscript submitted (except your own), and we will go around in turn to provide the critique. Other people who refrain from speaking when not their turn to critique. This provides the speaker will the full focus of the group.
The author of the manuscript being critiqued is asked not to speak until the end of the round of critiquing. You can, however, ask direct, simple questions that the author can answer in one sentence or less. We limit the questioning to this style to avoid explanation or defense, which is a natural tendency, but is counter-productive to improving your writing. Afterwards, they may ask follow up questions to clarify the critique, but should strive to avoid explaining or making excuses from the critique.
If you print the manuscript for critiquing and have made notes on the manuscript, you will give the author your marked up copy for them to digest in their own time.
Good Critiquing is a skill that takes time to develop. The critique should be brief, impersonal, and concerning important aspects of the piece. The critique should be solely about the writing under discussion. And with everything, it should be respectful in all ways.
First Impressions, reactions from the first reading and misunderstandings are all useful data points for the author. Speak without animosity in all cases. Include how the piece made you feel and where those feelings cropped up. And address the author, not the rest of the group. The critique is for their benefit.
Your work needs to stand on its own. No preface speech, and you should remain quiet until the very end of your piece’s round of critiquing, unless asked direct questions, and then you should answer as directly as possible. Avoid the pitfall of trying to provide explanation. Your work should stand by the words on the page, not your explanation. Take note of all questions, because there is something you be learned from the questions asked.
Make notes while you listen to the critique. If something is unclear about the feedback, make a note, take your own notes as you process the critique even if your first reaction is “that’s stupid.” Try to understand why the person is saying the things they are saying.
Pay attention to common themes between the critiques. There is probably something there.
At the end of the round of critiquing, you have the floor, but don’t offer explanation or defense of your work. If you have questions that weren’t answered in any of the critiques, now is a good time to ask. If you were unclear about someone’s critique, ask clarifying questions.
Avoid accusations, and thank the critiquers for their time, input, and effort.