Writing Groups and Critique Vocabulary
“I feel like I’ve been dragged around by a puppy on a leash.” That’s what I popped into Bob’s office to say about an article we were both reviewing for publication.
He looked at me for a few seconds then set down his coffee. “Her theme is clear. She needs to rearrange a few paragraphs for flow. Some of the sentences are run-ons. Easy fix. And she needs to develop some solid transitions and pay attention to topic sentences.”
Yeah. Like I said. You know. The puppy.
Listening to Bob’s calm editorial assessment made me realize I needed critique vocabulary. I needed to be a member of a writing group.
I had heard writers rave about the trust and faith and good work developed because of groups. Sure, it’s a task to find the one that works for you, but once you’re in, the magic happens. I just had to find a group that would have me.
As kismet conspired, a friend soon approached me and said, “We’re always talking about our writing, why don’t we devote some time, say, once a month?” Amen.
We didn’t have any rules. We could bring to each other whatever we were working on. We commented on content, impact, line breaks, sentence structure, showing not telling, our preferences and the rules about punctuation, and how fiction builds truth. Virginia was patient with me. Our writing chops grew.
And our group grew as well. Everyone is patient with me when I say stuff like, “Are you devoted to the word hemorrhage? It seems too . . . too . . . solid. Too scientific for the rest of the poem. It’s heavy where it is.” Or “Kick butt last line. Pow!” And the writer gets it—or doesn’t and asks me to explain.
But because I’m in groups (did you notice the plural?) whose members are smart, talented, gracious, and caring people, I’ve picked up critique vocabulary. The following sound like questions and comments Bob might employ.
What would happen if you cut the last sentence? The last paragraph?
I think your poem starts in the second stanza. Tell us about the first stanza.
Would you entertain a line break here?
Some punctuation other than the semicolon might work. Em dash gives you more impact?
I don’t understand all of this poem, but it doesn’t matter. You’ve infused it with immense emotion. Sheer genius.
I have written very few pieces by myself. Sometimes my poems are seen by members of three groups. My output and understanding of craft would be paltry without the people who keep me writing—the people who share with me their time and brains and hearts. And vocabulary. I’m a better writer and editor for their efforts.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart Beth, Bob, Carol, Frank, Keren, Klecko, Laura, Mary, Matt, Paulette, and Virginia. Your grateful groupie, Dara
Please leave a comment about your writing groups and critique vocabulary. Thanks, and happy writing.