I recently stepped out of my comfort zone for the sake of my writing career and felt exposed in front of strangers.
I attended the Florida Christian Writer’s Conference, flying hundreds of miles away from my familiar writing chair and my family who think my writing is wonderful, and took part in Eva Marie Everson’s mentoring clinic. I wanted her professional opinion about the good and bad of my writing. I didn’t realize I was going to get eight other opinions, too.
Eva’s clinic was modeled after her book, Word Weavers, The Story of a Successful Writers’ Critique Group, (co-authored with Janice Elsheimer). After I introduced myself, I passed copies of my work to eight other writers—strangers, people who weren’t going to say, “I like it,” because they were my friends. They were going to give me their honest opinion. Wasn’t that what I wanted? Could I face their criticism? Could I keep my mouth shut while they critiqued?
I could and I did, because that’s why I left my comfort zone—to learn if my audience cared, if they understood the plot, and if I used appropriate metaphors. I not only received important feedback, I learned the benefit and the skills necessary to form my own local critique group—the best way to improve my craft.
Here is a condensed version of a few of the operating instructions taken from the book:
• Assign a leader who reviews basic rules before the session.
• Person to be critiqued distributes 8 – 10 copies of his/her manuscript, 1500 words, double-spaced, and line-numbered.
• Writer explains the purpose of the piece, intended audience, and he critique expectations. Then, listens.
• The person to the left of the writer reads the writer’s entire piece aloud.
• While the piece is read aloud, other members jot positive and negative comments on their copies.
• Reviewers are given a two minute break to mentally form a critique. The person to the right of the writer begins, which allows the reader to comment last.
• Critiquers use the “sandwich technique” for remarks. They begin and end with specific positive comment. In between, they add what was lacking (pov, showing vs. telling, first impressions of protagonist, etc.) and more positives—keeping in mind the writer’s needs for the critique.
• Writer gets to take home all comment copies.
• Critiquers give suggestions for where the writer might submit her piece.
There are many other valuable topics in the book. They include: the leader’s role, preparing for meetings, questions to ask when critiquing, sample positive feedback comments, tips on membership, defining your group, group logo, publications, sister groups, legal issues, and more. I strongly recommend this book for writers considering forming a critique group, or improving a current one.
Leaving the comforts of home to travel to a conference, or a critique group, to share my work is intimidating, but for the sake of improving my writing career, I know that it’s worth the exposure. I’m interested in forming a Word Weavers group near Warsaw. If you’re interested in joining, please let me know.