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On Writing: How to Start and Maintain a Local Critique Group

 The most valuable tool you’ll ever have to become a better writer is the local critique group. If you are not involved with one, please seriously consider starting and maintaining one. Here are the guidelines to help you get started: 

    1. Contact any local writer you know. Post notices in grocery stores, mini marts, and post offices with contact information.
    2. Have a set time and date for your first meeting. It can be at your home or in a local restaurant, library, community social room at a mall, etc.
    3. Pick one person to be the leader of your group—it probably should be you since the group is your idea—or rotate by having a different leader every time you meet. Choose a central location to meet. (Our group, average of five members, meets at a local Starbucks inside a Target store.)
    4. Several days before the meeting, email or call everyone to find out who’s bringing something to critique. The leader then plans how much time will be allotted to each writer at the meeting. Example: we have a two-hour meeting once a month. If five of us bring something to be critiqued, we each get about 20-25 minutes total time for the critique. It’s best for the leader to have a timer. We usually limit our pages to about five typed double-spaced pages, but that depends on how many writers want to be critiqued.
    5. At the meeting, open with the sharing of news, i.e. someone has been accepted for publication, someone is speaking somewhere or having a book signing, writers conferences, etc.
    6. Each person who has something to critique should bring copies for all members. The author has a choice to:

 

            a.    send his work to each member via email attachment ahead of time to have the other writers critique his work and bring a printed version to the meeting

            b.   have his/her work read aloud by another member while the group critiques with pen

           c.   have the work read silently while the critiquing is being done.

      7.    After the reading, each person, other than the writer, discusses the manuscript.  The leader should “control” the input by giving each person at the table a turn to speak, going clockwise or counterclockwise. The author is encouraged to offer his/her input. Also, the leader should prevent discussions and personal trivia that chase rabbit trails and have nothing to do with critiquing the manuscript. Then the critiqued copies are handed back to the writer. Fellowship and sharing can take place before or after the entire critiquing session is over.

     8. Before dismissing, the next date for the critique meeting should be set.

THE ART OF CRITIQUE-

1.  offers a chance to communicate with each other.  First, tell the writer what you enjoyed about the story and its strengths. Be positive about something.

2.  allows review of what you think needs work: boring opening, weak characters, weak plot, unnatural dialogue, etc.

3.  prevents the members not to “over-critique.”  Each writer has his own individual voice or style of writing. Other than correcting obvious punctuation, word usage, grammar, and spelling, try not to rewrite the work (especially poetry).  Too much critiquing will then morph the author’s work into your work, which is defeating the purpose of the critique group.

4.  As the author of the work, you should process the critique comments. Decide if the critique really hit home.  Some writers don’t change anything unless they get at least two or three comments about the same area of work. Try not to be offended. Critiquing is a valuable tool to make you a better writer. To err is human; and we’re all human! Be ready to accept change.

5. Remember, you are the final judge of your work.

HAPPY WRITING AND CRITIQUING!

Marsha

www.marshahubler.com

www.susquehannavalleywritersworkshop.wordpress.com

http://www.horsefactsbymarshahubler.wordpress.com

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Writers’ Tips: Writing Your First Draft

For a while, let’s discuss writers’ tips in general. We won’t focus on a particular genre, but we’ll discuss the ins and outs of good writing, which will lead to a published work in your hands.

Okay, you have a fantastic idea, you’ve mulled it over in your head for weeks, months, maybe years! Now, you’re finally ready to launch your creativity into the writing/publishing world and “put your idea on paper.”

First, you need to decide for what genre you will write. Genre, pronounced jaun’-rah, is the classification in which your manuscript will be categorized. There are dozens of genres and subgenres, all which branch from several very broad ones: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, screenwriting, and music composition, to name the most popular.

No matter which genre you choose, there’s a HUGE important step you need to take while you’re writing your first draft. Go to the library and/or bookstore (music store) and read or study as many published works in your chosen genre as you can. If you want to be a good writer, a published writer, then study those who’ve already achieved that goal.

Now, I’m not saying that everything out there on the bookshelves is “classic” and worthy of being studied, but the majority of the published works are. Analyze your genre of choice, take notes, and see what enabled those works to be worthy of publication.

I have pages of notes and samples from tween fiction and Amish fiction novels that show good character description, excellent use of dialogue, and “showing” not “telling” narration. I have several volumes of poetry by famous poets. I have a dozen or so Bible studies, which I’ve analyzed. From time to time, I open my files on my computer and just read through the notes to refresh my memory as to what “good” writing is. Or I’ll get one of those poetry books or Bible study guides and read them. These genres are all ones in which I’ve been published, but there’s always more to learn!

 As you read and study, begin writing your first draft. There are two ways you can work on your first draft:

1.You can write your entire manuscript on paper or on a blank document in the computer without worrying about the PUGS (punctuation, usage, grammar, and spelling) until you’ve finished.

2.You can edit yourself as you go, review your manuscript often and revise, revise, revise.

No method is the “best” one. It’s your decision how you want to finish that first draft.

I have several friends who write like crazy and don’t worry about a missing comma or a misspelled word. Me? That would drive me crazy. As a former high school English teacher, I can’t stand a comma out of place. It’s almost like an abscessed tooth. I have to get it fixed immediately! Therefore, I revise and edit as I write so that when I’ve finished the manuscript, I have very little revising to do.

The last and vital step for you to take is to join a local writers’ critique group. If you have none in your area, post some notices on community bulletin boards at mini-marts, grocery stores, libraries, etc. and advertise that you’d like to start one. You only need four to six writers (of any genre) to have a great critique group. Decide if you want to meet weekly or monthly and get started. (Our local group meets at a Starbucks coffee nook in a Target store. ) This writing aid will be the most value to you. To have other writers give you an honest critique (which will be quite painful to you) will make you a better writer. So don’t shy away from this important step in the beginning writing process.

Now, when you have all these facets of your beginning writing career in place, you can officially call yourself a writer. So stop talking about it and get started!

Next time we’ll discuss preparing your final draft for submission to an agent or editor.

 Marsha Hubler

(web) www.marshahubler.com

(horsie stuff) www.horsefactsbymarshahubler.wordpress.com

(writers conference) www.susquehannavalleywritersworkshop.wordpress.com

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