Friday, July 15, 2011

Critiquing Writing

Sometimes somebody can't come to critiquing.

That can be good…and bad. It means we can utilize more time on fewer pages or that we get done earlier. It's not like we don't have other lives. On the other hand, it means that someone who may be a very able critiquer is perhaps gone. Furthermore, we get invested in the stories of others and want to see what's coming next.

This past week --- in fact, the past couple weeks --- M has not been able to come.

Not coming, however, is not entirely optional; you need a pretty good excuse for not being there. The consequences of not being there consistently eventually comprise of being replaced by somebody new. There's basically only time and space around a decent sized table for six of us. Family emergencies, personal emergencies, sickness, work conflicts, and, and since we're writers, book signings, speaking on writing, etc. are all acceptable excuses for not being there, within limits.

M is our only professionally published book writer at this time. The second book he worked on in the critiquing group got published by Scholastic. He made a three-book deal with them, as I understand it. The first of the contracted books --- the second he worked on in the group --- came out last October. The third one he worked on in the group will come out I believe in October. The first one he worked on in the group will be the basis for the third one that comes out sometime in the future, unless things changed. The last time he met with us, he indicated he had had an epiphany about a new book --- or a new book series --- and was having a hard time not diverging from what he had been working on to write it.

B is a schoolteacher by profession. She had written in excess of 200 pages in her novel that she has been presenting to us by the end of the school year, but when she got the break because of school being out for the summer, she hurried and completed her book. She is in the process of editing it and pitching it to agents. She said she has had some encouraging feedback.

C went first the other night. So she passed out her four pages to each of us, keeping four pages for herself to read from. Then she read. She's now several pages into a new novel set somewhat in the future geographically in what is now Montana. Her protagonist is a girl, about fourteen years old as I recall, who is enslaved to a master. In this particular episode, her protagonist is pretending not to be enslaved and is visiting a local official, trying to make some inroads with regard to her situation. So since C read first, M was gone, I critiqued her first. And on it went around the table: D, J, and B.

"… we're seeing this at the tail end of where you've changed a lot, so it might work after we read the hundred pages," says B to C. B goes on and, of course, has said more before this clip, explaining her take on the pages read, noting major pluses and minuses in what has been presented. And there's a conversation back and forth.

After one of us have finished a hundred pages we're entitled to request a meeting to discuss the entire hundred pages in context. So arrangements are made for the hundred pages to be distributed, for a time everyone has to fit it into their schedule to read and critique it, and a meeting date scheduled for that to take place. The discussion of the person's hundred pages then takes the place of the typical meeting .

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Critiquing Writing with B, C, D, J, & M

I do one thing on Tuesday nights.

That's right, one thing. Don't even start thinking about me eating or satisfying my visceral needs or attending to family emergencies. I said I do one thing on Tuesday nights, and I mean it. One thing. Got that?

Beginning at 6 PM, I sit together with five other people --- four women and one man --- and we critique each other's writing. We continue on in that endeavor for three solid hours, without interruptions, with no kids present, no spouses interrupting, and all cell phones off.

Well, let's be practical here; there are emergencies, but they darn well better be occasional.

The typical mode of our endeavor has us going over twenty-four pages --- four pages each.

I've wanted to blog about this endeavor for a while. So now I am, and I want to do it consistently. However, don't cross your fingers about that.

This is our methodology.

We take turns.

Whoever's turn it is begins by handing out copies of their four pages to everyone else and then reading them out loud. Their four pages consist of of whatever they choose. They determine that. For the most part, what is worked on are novels. But there are exceptions. For example, D has been working on a dialogue between the narrator (herself) of her new novel (First? She's new to the group.) and her protagonist, whose name is Rachel. She's trying to work some problems out.

Anyway, the beginner reads while the rest of us listen, taking notes, and make editing marks on the four pages which have been provided to us. After finishing the out loud reading, the reader waits while the critiquers continue making their notes and suggestions on the four manuscript pages. After everyone finishes, a discussion ensues, hopefully, in an orderly fashion. The person to the left of the reader starts, revealing their thoughts about the manuscript, positive and negative. For the most part, the others listen during this process until it's their turn. The process continues all the way around back to the reader. The reader has a chance during the process or at its end to comment, ask questions, try and get clarification. Then the next person in line reads and the process continues on, like I said for three hours. Three hours of hard work, if we do the work well.

I have written a tax book for writers, Making Expression Less Taxing, and two novels: Time for All Eternity and Alejandro the Great. I have worked on all of these books utilizing feedback I got from this process.

M, J, B, and C have all worked on various novels in this group. D is new to the group and, to my knowledge, has not completed a book-length work.