People sit around table. With pencil in hand and pages before them, they follow along as someone reads an excerpt from his or her life story. A discussion follows: I liked how you described this person. Your dialogue is well written. You might want to vary the structure of your sentences in this paragraph. I’d really like to hear more about…
This is what happens in a feedback group or a critique group, as it is often called. I don’t much like the critique group label because of the negative connotation of the word critique. That one word brings up the horrors of stories slashed to bits, writers ridiculed for simple mistakes, confirmation that the person should have never attempted to write in the first place. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The true meaning of the word critique is to review or analyze. That’s it! It’s not an all-negative analysis nor is it a purely positive evaluation. I think one of the most uncaring statements a person can make about someone’s work is: Don’t change a thing. It’s perfect just as it is. Nothing is perfect; all writing can be improved upon, and when you invest time and energy into helping someone make his/her story better, you’ve done a noble thing.
I have a friend who says that having your work reviewed by peers is like sitting at a table wearing no clothes. That’s a bit graphic, but he makes a good point. To allow others to evaluate your words is an extremely vulnerable proposition, and in writing memoir, you’re doubly exposed. Not only are people commenting on your writing, they are also indirectly providing feedback on your life. It’s scary, and it takes courage, but the informative received from this type of review is so worth the discomfort.
Here are a few of the many benefits of participating in a feedback group:
- Obtain an objective look at your story
- Learn what’s working and what’s not
- Grow as a writer through examining other writers’ efforts
- Shed light on your writing blind spots
- Gain encouragement and support to continue writing
- Learn as much by giving feedback as receiving it
- Make yourself accountable to other group members
- Know that you are not alone on this writing journey
- Learn from the strengths of other group members
- Broaden your writing experience
So, let’s build a monthly feedback group. Here’s how I’m thinking it will work. Each participant may submit up to eight, double-spaced pages for review each month. Bring six copies of your story with you to the meeting, one for yourself and one for each member of the group.
We’ll break into small groups of five members each. Each person will read his/her story while other members of the group follow along and jot notes on the copy provided. When the author is finished reading, we will go around the table, and each member will provide the writer with comments on the piece. The author will then have the opportunity to ask questions and solicit more feedback. At the end of the allotted time, the group will move on to the next story and so forth until each member has had an opportunity to present his/her work.
All participants are asked to attend even if they do not have a story to share with the group. It’s the commitment to each other that makes this type of a group work. And, I promise you, you’ll learn just as much if not more participating in the review of other people’s writing.
So, you in? Will you join this memoir writing group? What has your experience been with feedback groups in the past? What do you hope to get out of and contribute to a group like this? Write your comments below and weigh in.
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