Lost in Reminiscence

 

There are probably as many different kinds of writing groups as there are types of writers. And when it comes to definition, there’s no right or wrong, no good or bad. What’s most important is for a group to decide what works best for them and do it.

Some groups meet for support since there’s nothing more energizing than spending time with other writers. Some meet for instruction and the format may resemble a classroom complete with writing prompts and assignments. Still others meet for critique, an opportunity to give and receive constructive feedback. Writing groups can include any combination of, or all of these elements.

For anyone interested, the internet is filled with information and advice on how to make the most of writing groups and the critique process. Here’s some of what I found. What is critique? Critique is offering your impressions, reflecting on how a piece of writing affects you. It is also offering suggestions for improvement but not necessarily making corrections. After all, this is the author’s work and they have the final say.

Commenting on word choices is effective when it is more general than specific. For example, saying “instead of using the word ‘dark’ you should say ‘murky,’ ” may not be very helpful. Better to point out that the use of a certain word conveys weakness where perhaps a stronger word would better get the point across. Or saying use of a certain word sounds harsh. Ask the author if they intended to be harsh or would a more neutral word have better results?   The author then can use your suggestion and look for a word that better defines the feeling they’re trying to capture.

One purpose of critique is to give feedback as a reader. Was the story interesting? Did it hold your attention? Do you care about the characters and what happens to them? Then also give feedback as a fellow writer, focusing on the technical issues such as the need for tightening the writing or even omitting extraneous information. Other elements include how the story flows, whether transitions from one topic to another are smooth or not or opinions about how and when certain facts or incidents appear in the story.

Passing out copies to all is helpful because reading along can increase the impact leading to better critique. Commenting on punctuation and grammar can be done in writing before returning your copy to the author. Then line-editing doesn’t need discussion during group and allows better use of the available time.

Writers are articulate, creative individuals who enjoy people and love to talk. Hence, writing groups can easily drift into casual discussions that have little to do with the process of writing. This type of diversion is sometimes referred to as reminiscing. Writers are expected to reminisce and, as an essay and memoir writer, everything I write is reminiscence! But it’s entirely another matter when time is taken up with talk of someone’s own personal experiences, philosophy or beliefs rather than focusing on the writing under discussion.

The dynamics of writing groups are fluid and ever evolving; many writers report how important a writing group was to their development and success. It’s a challenge to find that middle ground between structured discipline and free reign (critique Nazi’s vs anything goes). Successful efforts will be rewarded with enjoyment of the group’s activities while increasing productivity and fulfilling your writing ambitions. Write on!

 

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