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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Re Writing Groups

Arisia asks some good questions about the mechanics of writing groups. I've been in a lot of them over the years, some pretty good, and a few really horrid—and if I had the time to write a full column, I'd relate more of the horror stories, as some of them are pretty hilarious in hindsight—

But for now, let's just stick with what works. The best writing groups I've been in, judged in terms of producing the most published work by the most group members, generally followed a process something like this.

The group meets on a regular basis; say monthly. Groups that meet on an ad hoc basis always fall apart rapidly.

Everyone submits something to the group for every meeting. Missing once is understandable; missing twice puts you on probation; and not submitting for three meetings in a row gets you booted. This weeds out the "critique sadists," who join writing groups seemingly for the sole purpose of insulting other people. Yes, I've met plenty of those. They're all filed under "horror."

Everyone submits well in advance of the next meeting. At least a week in advance, if it's a short story, and a month isn't out of the question, if you're working on a novel. There's no official length limit, but good manners dictate that submissions be kept under ten thousand words—unless you're well into a novel, and also willing to accept that your fellow group members might only read and comment on part of what you submit.

Everyone submits their entry on paper, or in an emailed text or rtf file. Thus the members of the group will be seeing the work as an editor would; in cold, unadorned, print.

At the group meeting, the members sit in a circle, tackling each submission in turn, with everyone commenting on every submission. And—this is the really hard part—the author of the piece being critiqued just SHUTS UP AND LISTENS, until everyone else has had their say. No arguing. No whining. No answering questions unless specifically asked. Most of all, no carrying a grudge, and just sitting there steaming and itching for your chance to savage the wretched Philistine who just slagged your work.

There; that's a very short summary of what I've seen to work best. Your thoughts, comments, and observations? 
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