The critical reading of members’ work-in-progress is a popular item on many [writer group] programs. The purpose is to help every participant to become a better writer. Of course we all want praise, but praise alone is not enough. Even the most successful writer needs constructive criticism. An effective critique demands the loving commitment of everyone in the group to help the others achieve their full potential.
-Some groups set a theme to trigger original writing.
-Others find it more valuable to bring their work-in-progress.
-There is less value in offering constructive criticism about work already published.
-The manuscript session needs firm chairing. This need not be done by the group leader. It could be the responsibility of another member, or be rotated.
-The best in-depth response comes when copies are circulated in advance, but that takes considerable organization and expense. The next best thing is for those who can to bring spare copies. This produces a deeper level of feedback than just hearing work read aloud.
-Resist the temptation to explain the work. It should speak for itself. A brief sentence: “This is from a children’s novel“, or “These are Bible-reading notes“ is enough.
-It may be necessary to set a time limit for longer works.
-It helps to read a poem twice. The second reading could be made by someone else.
-If the others make notes during the reading, it deepens the quality of response.
-The whole group should be involved. Some members contribute their opinions freely and fluently, while others hang back and need to be encouraged. For the best results, the chair of the manuscript session will invite everyone to contribute a response, with a time limit if necessary.
-It saves time if the writer stays silent until everyone else has spoken. Make notes of points that need answering and give any clarification at the end.
Do you have any related experiences others can learn from? Leave us a comment, please.
This article was excerpted from MAI’s booklet, Creating a Christian Writer Group, by Fay Sampson. It gives all kinds of tips and parameters for those hoping to form a new group or grow an existing one. You’ll find this booklet and other resources for writing and publishing are available on MAI’s website.
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