Interview with Susan Smith, author of Living with the Lions and Invisible Elephants What process…
Guest post from Vivienne Lingard
Having your writing critiqued is most beneficial, although many beginning writers may be resistant to having their work commented on by others at the start. This is a process that novice writers must undergo, however, if they are to further their writing skills. And I recommend joining a writing critique group.
Finding a writing critique group
Finding the ‘right’ group can be tricky, but there are a few things I have learned over the years which may make things a little easier when making that choice. Whether you enjoy writing for children or adults, fiction or non-fiction, when starting out it does help to find a group with similar writing interests.
Those with more experience, however, may enjoy a mixed-genre group. It is good to have a mix of people too, by age and gender, as the variety can offer extra benefits to all writers.
The way the group is run can sometimes lead to debate, so you will need to think about the sort of group you would like to be part of. I pose a few questions to consider below:
- Can you give time to writing on a regular basis?
- Can you commit to meeting regularly?
- Do you wish to learn more about the craft of writing?
- Or are you more interested in chatting over coffee and cake?
How to structure a writing critique group
As someone who is a committed writer, I believe a group works best with a convener and a set day and time for the meetings. These should be put in place at the start, with a consensus from the group of course. This means that the group will always meet on the allotted day and time (maybe monthly).
Naturally, there will be occasions when some cannot make a meeting and that’s fine, but the meetings should always proceed. I have found trying to reshuffle a timetable to meet changing demands to be quite problematic for everyone. A group is liable to disband if meetings are changed continually to suit one or another. From my experience, a loosely run group, with no convener, or no set timetable, will soon run into problems.
A group also works better if it is smaller rather than larger; four to six members works well. Meeting monthly gives everyone time to produce a piece of writing for critique.
It also helps if members email the chosen piece to the group beforehand (several days beforehand is good). The process can be that each writer reads one or two pages of work at a meeting as other group members take notes. Only when they have finished should comments be offered.
Time management (by the convener) comes into play here, as each member should be given equal opportunity to present their work, and everyone should have an opportunity to make brief comments.
Listening to one another read is crucial. Often when reading aloud, discrepancies are picked up, such as repetition, over-long sentences, pauses, sentence or plot structure, etc. Only when the reader has finished should the group begin to comment, one at a time.
How to give and receive constructive writing critique
As in teaching, it is more useful to express a positive about the work, before offering comment about something that perhaps doesn’t work. It is important to be specific with comments, rather than making blanket statements, such as ‘that’s boring’. For example, a piece of writing may have too much exposition, and you might say something like – “I found the pace a little slow. Maybe if some dialogue was added, it would break the exposition and liven the passage?”
Over time, group members’ critiquing skills should improve. The convener’s role is to oversee the group process, ensuring everyone has a fair go, when reading their work and expressing opinions.
Whatever group you decide to join, have a coffee and cake by all means, but don’t make it the priority of the meeting. Being part of a critique group means that you have a job to do, learning new aspects about the craft of writing, as well as having fun.
Good luck with your writing.
You can find more of Vivienne Lingard’s writing here.
Vivienne Lingard has an arts background which includes exhibiting, teaching, graphic design and children’s book illustration. Writing and blogging have become a passion more recently. Vivienne has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Auckland, and has completed courses in Advanced Fiction Writing (short story) at Massey University. She has also completed a mentorship programme through the New Zealand Society of Authors and a short story masterclass with Tom Jenks in San Francisco. She was invited to join the Editorial Team for the Narrative Literary Magazine. Vivienne is currently working on a novel, a collection of short stories, and a family history, as well as continuing with her art practice.
For more information on writing and publishing in New Zealand, see our book, Self-Publishing in New Zealand.