Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Critiques - Part Two - The Stop-Watch is Your Friend

Last week, I outlined my personal checklist of "what" areas to consider when you provide a critique (aka crit) of someone else's fiction. This week I will discuss the "how" of sharing said crit. For those of you who may be wondering why our writing group is called The Stop-Watch Gang, read on...

Most writers receive their feedback through formal writers' groups. Read my post on Writers' Groups for more information on why joining a group is a great idea.

I provide crits for writers all over this lovely planet we call Earth. Suffice it to say, I can't always discuss the details in person. Fortunately, we live in an era where tools like Track Changes in Word and messenger services like Skype and BlackBerry Messenger can closely emulate the e-crit experience so that it mimics that of the face-to-face crit experience.

The advantages of e-crits:
- exposure to a myriad of different writing styles
- a variety of professional connections in alternate demographic markets
- shorter time commitment
- no limit to the number of participants

The disadvantages of e-crits:
- inferior opportunities for rebuttals and plot noodling
- loss of the "social" aspect
- real possibility of misinterpretation
- spending too much time on crits and not enough on writing

Try to be as clear as possible with your written comments. Vague notes can lead to misinterpretations and in-fighting.

Read my previous post for more information on Plot Noodling. For ideas on where to meet new writers, read my previous post on Conventions.

Budget your writing time carefully. Do not get involved in so many crit groups that you're spending all of your writing time reading and doing crits of other people's work instead of meeting your own word count goals.

Looking for a more personal crit experience? Join a writers' group that meets regularly (once a month, one a week, whatever works for your collective schedules) and provide and receive live crits in person.

Our group, The Stop-Watch Gang uses a stop-watch to time our critiques. Each person is allowed to speak for five minutes and then the stop-watch rings.

During this five minutes no one else is allowed to speak and if you do, then you are severely reprimanded. Hence the phrase, They will cut you! (In case you were worried that we were a bunch of axe murderers.)

Once all crits have been shared, the author has a chance for rebuttals, clarifications, and plot noodling. This segment of the session is NOT timed, but we do keep an eye on the clock to ensure that all submissions get the full advantage of our shared time.

The advantages of live-crits:
- each person doing a crit gets ideas from the other participants
- patterns emerge and "trouble sections" become clear
- scheduled opportunity to socialize with other writers
- regular deadline to write new fiction

The disadvantages of live-crits:
- stressful for shy-type personalities
- larger time and travel commitment
- difficult to get the right "mix" of personality and skill set
- limited number of participants

Some of you might already participate in writers' groups who do NOT time the participants. If open-ended crit times work for your group, then by all means, go with what works for your collective.

Many of us in the Stop-Watch Gang have been caught at one time or another in groups where one or more participants ramble on and on, refusing to be interrupted. Those nights can take forever and everyone's time is always in short supply.

The stop-watch is a safety device that ensures our meetings keep to a reasonable length and everyone has time to say their piece.

Now that you are armed with what to put in a crit and how to deliver your comments, get out there and join a group, or start your own.

Keep in mind that writers' groups are continuously evolving. People come and go, so be prepared to be flexible and open-minded.

Do it now
Call up or email a writer-friend and make a coffee date.

Go online and investigate writers' groups. I listed several in my post on Writers' Groups.

Sign up for a class/workshop. Two of the groups I belong to are made up of members from a workshop I attended.

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