Don’t fight the rule

I went back to the New writing workshop last night – I had a good time and got some good notes on the first three pages of “The Landing”, as well as listening to some funky poems and stories and telling the other writers what I thought about them.

It was definitely a different experience than the first time I went, in September. I came prepared for some ‘intensely constructive criticism’, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be. But there was something else that I was reacting too differently.

The workshop co-ordinator made a point of spelling out ‘his rule’ for these workshops – the author hands out the copies, gives a little explanation if he (or she) feels inclined to, reads… AND THEN SHUTS UP. The rest of the group are then free to respond in any way they feel moved, to get into a discussion among themselves, but they are not supposed to ask the author questions. And the author is not supposed to reply to their feedback, beyond the level of grunts or pleasantries perhaps.

I do remember something being said along these lines back in September, but not as clearly – and I definitely didn’t follow the rule back then. That was a lot of the problem, I see now – I started to get defensive about my story, which probably got some of the other participants more insistent on making their points.

This isn’t the only way to run a critiquing circle, of course. The Chester’s group has a format where the people who wrote the piece are welcome into the discussion, and questions are often asked of them, and that works quite well for the group there by and large. But the rule for the new workshop probably encourages more indepth criticism, as opposed to promoting encouragement of authors.

I’ll definitely be going back to James street north for the New Workshop again this winter. And – I’m sorry for arguing back last time, guys.

2 Responses to Don’t fight the rule

  1. Donna Hole says:

    The critique group I’m involved in is a little of both. The author is not encouraged to offer any feedback, unless a specific question is asked. Then Author can explain – minimally for clarification – but the author needs to be aware if explanations are needed beyond a single critter’s personal clarification, then the section probably needs revision.

    The Author is also allowed to ask specific questions about the overal take or recommended improvements, but again, it is a “listening” experience for the author. It is all about the feedback.

    We do tend to do more “encouraging” than trashing. Our first goal is to tell the author what we liked (what moved us and why) and then to point out sections that may not have had the effect the author intended. If the author seems to be defensive, then the feedback isn’t having the desired outcome and we – carefully if possible – desist.

    The group I’m in has been together (mostly) for several months. Some of us have been around through several changes in members, and that of course changes the dynamics. It’s hard to find a group – either ftf or online – that is compatible. Well worth the effort though. IMO 🙂



  2. Misa says:

    I sort of see the point – a finished piece of writing shouldn’t need any explanation – but to not allow the author ANY response seems to be taking that a little too far. Then again, you have the enemy of Time, which in a group situation is always going to be the majoring factor.

    Anyway have an award for being an all-round decent chap, great writer and… um, Canadian (I dunno, I ran out of things to say)


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