You provide a valuable service, and I wanted to express my gratitude for getting to be part of it.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Best Way to Hold a Critique Group

I attended the NCWN-West prose group at Tri-County Community College for the first time in quite a few months. This group meets monthly and has a good group of writers participating. Bob Grove is the facilitator. Some of those present were former students at Writers Circle Around the Table or my ICL classes. I love it when I see how much they have progressed. 


One of my writing classes
I also like the way those present encouraged each other. Compliments flew around the table and it was obvious that this group of seven not only gave constructive criticism, but gave each other positive ideas and suggestions. 
"This is the best thing you have written," one person told another.
Having heard and read each other's work for some time, it doesn't surprise me that they see improvement. The best part is that everyone is accepting critique and ways to improve.

I usually write memoir, but tonight I took a short story I had written a long time ago. I am not famous for my fiction, but have had some success in publishing a story or two. When I began seriously writing when I was in my twenties, I took a course in writing fiction. I never shared the story I wrote in that class with anyone other than my instructor. Now, I have the bug to write more short stories, and I will take them to this group for their helpful input. 

No matter how long and how often we write, it helps to have others read our work. They see what we can't see in our writing. To be a part of a critique group, one must be prepared to hear what others think and see in his work. 

I do wish this group was reminded of the manner in which critique works best. I, and others who were in this group twenty years ago, learned from Nancy Simpson the best way and the way many graduate studies teach critique. 

The facilitator tells the group that they must first go around the table and say what they like about the prose they just heard. Then they talk about what might make the story better, what they didn't understand or wanted to know more about.

In this manner of critique which is best, the reader stays completely quiet. He just listens to what the others say until everyone has spoken. At that time, the facilitator asks the reader if he wants to say anything. When critique is done this way, no one speaks directly to the reader. The reader doesn't become defensive or feel he has to explain himself.

An example of the wrong way:
The reader finishes his story and waits for the critique to begin. The first thing he hears is a direct criticism. "You changed point of view a couple of times," said someone in the group. She spoke to the reader directly instead of speaking to the group in general.

Immediately the reader feels he must say something, defend his work or explain his writing. 
He says something back and the room grows quiet. The atmosphere changes. Tension grows. 

The best way is to never say, YOU should do this or YOU did that. Beginning a sentence with you is often the way to turn someone completely off.

If the critique was done correctly, the first thing he would have heard is, "I like his characterization in this piece." Later he might hear, "He changed point of view a couple of times."  Then the reader would not become defensive. He would not have to defend himself since the words were not directed toward him.

After everyone has spoken about this story, the person in charge would say, "Do you have anything you want to say about what you heard?"
At that point the reader can speak or not. It is up to him.

It is a great way to critique and it never made anyone uncomfortable. When I was new to NCWN-West, I was scared to death to let anyone see my work. But Nancy Simpson, our facilitator of poetry and Richard Argo, who led the prose group, Carol Crawford and later Janice Moore kept to those rules of critique, and I never had my feelings hurt or felt attacked by someone telling me I must do that or I had done something wrong.  

When the critique was done, I felt gratitude for those who spoke about my work. I made notes as they talked and later I might change or revise using the suggestions I had heard. 

The leader of the group can make this work well. 

If several members of the group say to a reader "You need to do this or I don't understand what you are saying" the poor reader feels he has to defend himself and feels he is being attacked. That should never happen in a good critique group. It slows down the progress of the critique and doesn't really accomplish much.  

I want to attend this prose group again and I hope the suggestions I made here can be put in place for future meetings. 

What do you think about attending a critique group?











5 comments:

Glenda Council Beall said...

An Email from Anne:
Good suggestions, Glenda. It seems to me that when I got started in this critique group, it was closer to your description than it is now.
Merry Christmas to you and all you love,
Anne

Unknown said...

I would love to attend a critique group if I can find the time. I'm very busy with care giving duties and am still a working journalist practicing my craft.
I have never done much with my poetry but would love to try. The feedback I got after the flash fiction contest also was very encouraging.
Keep me updated if you start such a group.
Lorraine Bennett

Unknown said...

Very good points Glenda! We writers tend to be extra sensitive . . . this is a great way, and the right way, to offer caring advice. Lisa

Glenda Council Beall said...

Anne and Lisa, thanks for your comments about this post. The method I write about is a tried and true method used for years in successful groups.
Most people are afraid to hold critique groups because so many times someone gets angry or feels he is being maligned. But if the group has rules and sticks to them,critique can be done well and everyone can learn from it.
Thanks, Lisa for leaving your comment.
Thanks, Anne, for your email.

Glenda Council Beall said...

Lorraine, if you want to attend a critique group for poetry that is managed with the method I posted about, you can join Maren Mitchell's group that meets once a month at the library in Young Harris. They meet on a Tuesday from 2 - 4. Let me know if you want to be on that email list.

The Prose group for NCWN-West meets at Tri County College on the second Thursday of the month, 7:00 PM. Let me know if you need more information.