In my last post, I talked about what writing groups are and why you want to find one. In this post, Iíll talk about your responsibilities as a member.
In one of my writing groups, submissions are sent as attachments to emails. We are expected to send a ďgot it!Ē response, and sometimes there are formatting issues to iron out. The submissions can arrive anytime from immediately following the meeting to the weekend prior to the next meeting. In the other group, we bring printed copies to the meeting and read aloud while the others mark the copies up.
We are expected to know things like proper formatting for the type of work we submit (itís different for non-fiction and fiction books, different again for contest and magazine submissions, and different again for cover letters and synopses).
Pretty much anything is fair game for a submission, including cover letters and such (presuming that weíve all read the work described), and one of our number has occasionally woven together several of his NTEs (see Writing Groups: What They Are and How They Work). No one is obligated to submit each month, and those who have just completed a long haul (first or second drafts, or publication, for instance) donít need to feel obligated to submit anything as long as they contribute feedback.
Reviewing the work is the core objective of the gathering. I find that I have to read each submission more than once to give each submission a decent review. I mark the passages that I like as I go, do line edits because I canít help myself, and make marginal comments in my nearly illegible purple pen scrawling. Some people do these things on the computer, some do one pass on the computer and another by hand. Some people write up separate comments and notes, others write on the back of the last page. Itís all good. The important thing is to carefully consider what has been written and to make thoughtful comments.
Itís important to look for things like:
∑ Continuity: Did you say he had on a black jacket and now itís green?
∑ Character: Would the character, as youíve come to understand him, behave this way? (This comes up a lot in mystery fiction, especially where there is a policeman involved.)
∑ Grammar, word choices, punctuation: We mostly screen for basic knowledge of these things before we let you join us, but we have had a couple of participants from the UK whose choices are often different for cultural reasons. Itís important to know the difference.
∑ Plot: Are we following along? Did you just kill off our favorite character? Are you tossing plot points in as straw men to hide the fact that your outcome is obvious?
∑ Distractions: Has the writer wandered off the plot points? Is needing to know the answer to something keeping you from paying attention? Is a description missing and driving you crazy? Does the author have some sort of verbal tic that is driving you wonky?
∑ Length: Are you taking forever to get to the point? Conversely, does it feel like a haiku?
∑ Questions: Do you wonder what happened, how it happened, or why it happened, and do you feel that this will be resolved at some point?
Iíll admit that there are some writers in the group who have me so absorbed by the plot that I forget to look for anything to comment about. Thatís the main reason I give it at least two reads. Yes, things jump out at the first readingóthese are drafts, after allóbut some things become clear in ensuing readings because you know how things work out and you can help the writer focus when you reread.
For more on reading critically, read my blog, Reading Critically.