Thursday, August 23, 2012
writers' critique groups
Yesterday, I attended a biweekly writers’ critique group in the Kansas City area. Now, critique groups help us find areas in our poetry, prose, devotions, etc. that need fine tuning. IN our particular groups, each person bring about six to eight copies of something he/she wishes to share. We have writers of all levels from the well-ublished professional to the aspiring hopeful taking up the craft. WE go around our table, each person reading whatever he/she has brought and receiving everyone’s constructive critism. Now, despite the fact that we are Christian oriented group, we mostly critique each others writing style—punctuation, grammar, syntx. Of course, our most experienced writers know what sells in the market, so they offer what’s hot and what’s as far trends go. After all, we who gather in the group come from a variety of denominational backgrounds. That’s why I like it. I’m a conservative Lutehran focused, by nature, on presenting and preserving Law and Gospel ritghtly divided in devotions, in feature aritcles, in stories. So, having folks raking me over the coals as far as illustrations, word choice, and listener-friendliness is my desire. And, our group thrives on hacking up the minutia. This fact came clearer to me the two times we met. I think of some of our newer were surprised at how edgy and biting we got with each other in our critiques. Okay, someone coming off the street my say, “Wow, those guys don’t like each other.” Yet, we do support each other through tough love, laughing, and good-hearted sarcasm in how we say things. No itching ears get scratched n our presence. WE pour mines of salt into each others’ wounds ands. So, it takes folks new to our group a bit of time to learn our of humor. Newer members learn very quickly not to take the sharpness of each others’ remarks too personally. Now, I’ve been going to this particular critique group for over four years. Every meeting begins with a bit of small talk, catching up on each others’ lives, and indulging in the food Panera Bread has to offer. Then, the pens, paper, fangs, and razors come out. (first two items being literal and the last two being figurative) Because of my personal aims in bringing work to the group, previously mentioned, I never bring selections or vignettes with which I am most satisfied. I present articles or devotions which have a lot of warts and need a lot of work. Other attendees look for more positive reinforcement. So, they bring their best writing in hopes that the group will like it enough to recommend their using it somewhere for someone’s immediate encouragement. So, what kind of things might you hear our or any writers’ critique group emphasize? In writing good fiction, read a lotand work on showing actions/thought/emotion rather than just telling about it. I can tell you, for instance, “The main character in a short story is a geek, a bean counter, and quite reclusive.” Okay? That description gives a wide range of images in people’s minds. Check out what happens if I write: “ Buck sat at his desk with his chin resting on his hand. He squinted and nodded at each calculator and chart pinned to his cubical wall. He dreaded the company’s financial report due date.” That shows you a scene, a picture, action. I have admitted to several of my fellow group members that, besides hymns and longer lyric verses, I just don’t get flash poetry. I understand that folks can write two or three lines of descriptive, bulleted thoughts…but the art of how they do it in a poetic style ricochets off the right side of my brain like a basketball bouncing off a backboard. AS I write, I face the day after critique group—a day of studying and writing, a day of sending other members a few additional comments via email. Folks’ remarks are fresh on my mind. I’ll take them with all seriousness and see what direction my upcoming articles take. For more information about writers’ critique groups in the Kansas City Area, visit www.hacwn.org under the “about us” link.