1. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    I just got back from my first critique group and ...

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by doggiedude, Apr 15, 2016.

    Yeah... My first time walking into a critique group. I'm hoping to share some of my experiences with you in this process. Maybe some of you will share your own.

    A few days ago I found a posting on the local library website. **Writers Group 10am - 1pm Call [redacted] for more information**
    I called yesterday morning & got an answering machine. Left a message. Got no response.
    The above ad. was all the information I had to go on so I decided to just bring myself & observe the meeting.

    I showed up to the meeting this morning & was greeted by 4 men. I was obviously the youngest one there (I'm 48). This was not a surprise, I live in Florida. Friday mornings are prime-time for our seniors. One of the men takes the lead and introduces me to everyone. They tell me that the group frequently has 12-15 people but most of the snow-birds have gone home. The person I had called they already knew wouldn't be here today. Apparently she's one of the former English teachers in the group.

    After a few short minutes of chat, one of the men, obviously the oldest, (maybe 112?) is asked to read the chapter he brought.
    Everyone else is listening and taking notes. There is no written copy of the material for everyone, only the author reading. His piece is a historical one focusing on a slave owner in Virgina in the early 1800's. It's an early chapter but not chapter 1 so I make allowances for not knowing the preceding chapters.
    I found most of the chapter interesting and well written but a bit dry. Most of the scene takes place on a cargo boat that they are taking from Virgina to the Bahamas to buy things to sell back home.
    After the reading, everyone goes around giving their opinions and recommendations.

    The next person to read likes to write fairy tale type stories for his great-grandchildren. He's in his 70's.
    The piece is short. Again I like it, not perfect but good and everyone, including myself, gives their opinions.

    The other two men in the room haven't brought anything for the group to review. They look at me.
    They ask me if I want to read something of my own work. They also ask if I have any questions or opinions about the group. I mention that I find it difficult to really critique a written piece without actual writing for me to read. Someone says something about that's why they all take notes while the reading was going on. I guess he missed my point and was somewhat annoyed at me for only listening instead of making notes.
    I mention something about my own disastrous use of commas. Someone else says they can never see the commas anyway. Sigh.

    Since my work is on Google Docs I excuse myself to get the library wifi password for my phone.
    When I get back I read them my first chapter.
    A page or so into the chapter someone in the group stops me and asks me to read slower. I try.
    The chapter includes two government characters looking out at a crowd of protesters. Some of the protesters start throwing rocks at the capitol building.
    A sixth person joins our meeting as I get to the end of the reading

    The opinions I get from person 1: Something along the lines of well written from what I could follow.
    Person 2: (I'll let you guess which one): "I couldn't hear most of it. My fault... sorry."
    Person 3: It felt more like scene out of the 1960's I didn't get a feel for being a thousand years in the future.
    [Maybe a valid point. I'll take that into consideration.]
    Person 4: You started by introducing a Senator, then you never went back to that character. [The main character IS the Senator as noted by the constant use of calling him Senator Davies.]
    The characters were looking out the front windows of the building. What about the windows in the back of the building? [I really don't understand his point.]
    What about the rocket they launched through the window? [It was rocks.] Sigh.
    You mentioned a protester with a sign about missing pizza. Why was there no more about that? I was still thinking about the pizza by the end of the chapter.
    Back to person 3: Where did they get the rocks? [Really?? Seriously??]

    I'm perplexed by the observation and only say that it plays a part later in the story. He doesn't seem to like my answer. Does this person expect every question answered within each chapter?
    After I got home I actually found his observation to be a good one. It tells me that he latched onto something in the first chapter to make him want to find out more. That seems good to me.

    The sixth person to enter the meeting also didn't bring anything for us to review.
    The meeting breaks up after some more small talk.

    My opinion of the group is probably self-evident to you by now. The group seems to be focused on some retirees dabbling in story telling and looking for a way to spend their time. They were all very nice people but I'm not sure they will fit my needs. Most of their responses to my work could have been cleared up if everyone had an actual copy to look at.

    Writing this post has finally given me an idea for what to write as a blog. Maybe I'll start one and write about further experiences with other writer groups.

    You can find the very start of the first chapter here.
    http://www.writingforums.org/threads/opening-page-357.145496/

    Your views about this and your own experiences with these things would be appreciated.
     
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2016
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  2. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Oh my god I can't stop laughing. :D

    Please keep going and write weekly updates. You can publish it after as a humorous memoir-type thing.
     
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  3. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Aye, well, the first local writers' group I went to here in Scotland was made up of a similar age group to yours, @doggiedude . I was in my early 50s at the time, I was the baby of the group.

    All of them (there were about 8) were either writing memoirs or vignettes of their childhoods, or writing poems (mostly about their childhoods.) When I told them I was at work on a novel set in the Old West in the USA (which I was finishing at the time) I just got blank stares. Just stares. They were pleasant enough, but not for me at all.

    I think it's especially hard to find writing groups that cater for novelists. SO I am happy to report that the one I'm in now has nobody BUT novelists—some of whom occasionally dabble in short stories. And I am the grannie of the group. Yay! We can read out chapters or stories to each other and understand what we're all trying to achieve, and can offer insight into how to achieve it. It's fantastic. We all became friends really quickly, and end up going out and doing other things together as a group, and usually take the meeting away from the venue at the close of the session and resume it at the local McDonald's for coffee afterwards.

    I think it's really good that our writers' group is comprised of folks who are writing reasonably compatible stuff. What I also like about our group is that it's small. Four or five people at the most, although one night we had six. That was a fun night, but not everybody got a chance to show their writing. Four is better. It even works with three.
     
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  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Me too. I tried a group where people read, I went twice and gave up.
    One reason I didn't like the format, not all writers read well aloud and for me, I sometimes have to go back and read a section twice, especially when it's the middle of something I've not read the rest of.
    It's sometimes worth the time to get one good bit of wheat amongst the chaff.
    This is the kind of feedback I was bombarded with on Wed at my critique group. Most useless with the exception of adding to my knowledge of how not to critique.

    It's one thing to comment generally about not feeling anything for a character or noting a plot hole. But when people make comments like these it makes me think their idea of critique is to fit the story to the one they would tell.

    One person in my group told me I should look at The Story of O or Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale to get a better idea how to write a sexual slavery scene. I'm not writing an early 1900s version of 50 Shades and The Handmaid's Tale is a completely different dystopia than the book I'm writing. It was a cringeworthy critique.

    But I did take away from it I needed to focus more on the key elements and rework my vision of a high end brothel.

    This is what I try to do with less than useful comments, pick out things that might be useful even if the overall comments weren't.

    There's one old coot in our group (a newer member) writing a comedy western. He's having a great time even though his book reads like a bad screen play (he admits it started as one) and is missing the mark seriously as a novel. One of the critiquers gushes over the goofy language in the book the way one might humor grandpa. She writes with a heavy dose of New Zealand slang and idioms herself so maybe she does like his work.

    But it does nothing to help someone improve to go out of one's way to be nice when a piece is so seriously flawed. Polite, yes, say something good, always, but gush over bad work... not helpful.

    Sounds like great material for a blog.
     
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  5. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Reasons I *still* haven't tried my local writer's group:
    • Authors have to read out their work. I'm a terrible reader-out-louder and like Doggie I need to see words to properly critique them.
    • There are few novellists. Most attendees seem to be poets or screenplay writers and I'd be bored to tears listening to either of those being read out.
    • Their website looks like it was made in 1997 on Geocities.
     
  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    In the age of copy machines in every other house or at least a Staples or Kinkos within a five mile radius of most neighborhoods, it's cheap and easy to make copies for everyone to read.
     
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  7. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah but they don't do that. You have to read it out and they listen, not read. :S
     
  8. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That works in nearly all cases. However, not in the case of our group. One of the regulars is a young woman with eyesight issues. She has to write using Jaws to read her stuff out loud to her. She is a fantastic writer as well, but handing out papers at the meeting just doesn't work for her. So we all read out loud. (I usually read hers out loud for the rest of the group, because she can't see to do that.)

    It's true that you can do a better critique when you can see the words printed out, though.
     
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  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    It's reasonable to accommodate a member.

    And it's hard to do both, I don't find reading along much better because I can't concentrate or stop and take notes. Which brings up the problem, if you are taking notes, do you miss the next paragraph or two?
     
  10. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    https://writerscritiqueblog.wordpress.com/
    Okay... I've created a blog :)

    I've also heard of groups that e-mail each member the material ahead of time so everyone can spend quiet time on their own to focus on what they will suggest in the actual meeting. That seems like a great idea to me.
     
  11. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    doggiedude, dude, you are an inspiration. I just got back from our local FWA chapter meeting on marketing and publishing. Recognizing my need for an internet presence, I have decided I need to start blogging as well. I checked out your blog and it is spot on. Simple but very visually appealing. It gives me hope that I can produce something that doesn't look like it was made in 1997 on geocities. (thanks tenderizer, that was hilarious)
     
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  12. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I recommend Wordpress. On the whole it's really easy to use even if, like me, you haven't done anything website-y since Geocities was still a thing. There are also many writers on there so you can easily find other blogs to interact with.

    Authors seem to use either Wordpress or Blogspot, so I'd stick with one of those. It's a pain in the butt when I find a great blog and it's not on Wordpress, 'cause it's so much more convenient when I can see them all in one feed.
     
  13. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    Now I wonder if my old Geocities site is still out there in the universe. Goodbye sweet thing. I may miss you, but I'll never forget.
     
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  14. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Dude, geocities closed down 5 years ago.
     
  15. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Hehehe, this is amazing.
     
  16. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    Second meeting is posted on my blog if anyone is interested.
     
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  17. Justin Phillips
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    Justin Phillips Active Member

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    if I may ask, where are you in florida? I live in central florida near Orlando. You can pm me if you don't want to say on here. Just interested where this group is (and if you are close enough to swap critiques one day)
     
  18. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    I've made arrangements to go to a Sci-Fi only group tomorrow. This one looks intimate (maybe 4 or 5 people) so hopefully this group will work better.

    (meeting notes from 3 is posted... very unhelpful for my needs.)
     
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  19. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    Just caught up with your blog, great stuff.
     
  20. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    Glad you liked it. I'm overdue with my next posting, but I should have it up in the next day or so.
     
  21. Sack-a-Doo!
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    You guys are all a lot braver than I am. The closest I've ever come to joining a writer's group was joining this forum. My hat is off to you all.
     
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  22. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    I enjoy the stories, it's a good break and I actually find myself laughing. I just joined a group here in Philadelphia, I belong to two now. They meet at a local Barnes and Noble. First meeting all I could do was listen, they email their work to each other and then critique at the meeting. It was kind of boring. At the beginning they all tell the new guys what they are working on and then the new guys tell a little of their wip. Then its off to the critiques.
    There were about 8-10 members. Every description of their wip's was boring or uninteresting to me. They were nice, so I decided to stay on. They meet once a month, so the first week after the meeting is when you submit your work, the leader then sends out all to everyone.
    After a couple days, I send mine and received 9 different stories in return. I spent the next two days in utter disbelief on how awesome each one was. All beautifully written with great storylines and characters. I can honestly say that I am their new official "Special" person of the group. My work that I handed them was an old short story I wrote. It must have read like "Run Spot run" to them.
    They seemed super cool when I met them, and I am really glad they are good at writing. I have been looking for a group like this for a long time.
     
  23. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    Sometimes I wish I was back in Philly, but then I look out at the ocean & palm trees. I do miss the Amaroso rolls.
     
  24. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    If there's no good writing groups for you to go to, create your own. That's what I did. We meet at my place once a week, there are 5 of us, and it works great.
     
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  25. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    I've found one that's specific to sci-fi & fantasy that I go to every week. There's another group where we meet using Skype every two weeks. Both provide very different points of focus for me to re-examine my work. My blog has descriptions of my experience with both.
    I've been considering starting a third, preferably also an online group, if anyone is interested.
     
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