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Three types of writing groups, part 1

Joining a writing group was one of the ways in which I honed my skill as an artist and craftsman. Over the years, I’ve joined three different types of writing groups. Throughout the week, I’ll describe the benefits I received from each one.

Critique-Focused Group:  I’ve been a participant in a writing critique group on Bainbridge Island, Washington on and off for over 20 years.

The rules: everyone brings a poem or prose piece (up to 5 or 6 pages, or more if there’s less people). We bring enough copies for everyone in the group. We read the piece out loud and then remain quiet while the group silently reads through our pages again and marks them up. After 5 to 10 minutes (an excruciating period of time to listen to your pages being scratched up by various pens and pencils) the group begins to make comments–noting what they like and why they like it, along with any suggestions or questions they might have.

If questions are asked, the reader cannot answer–the group tries to puzzle out the author’s meaning together. When the discussion ends (anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes), the author may speak if they chose to. Sometimes, I may clarify something that’s been misunderstood or puzzling to the group. Most often, I just say, “Thank you.” It’s a great way to see what cold readers say about your work.

I like my group. I know their strengths and weaknesses. I like the rules–they make us efficient and respect everybody’s time. We take a 10-minute break half way through that allows just enough time to refill our tea cups, use the restroom, and chit-chat for a few minutes. I have a friend who recently tried a new writing group–and almost an hour of time was spent listening to one woman’s tragic life story. Not cool. There are other places for that–a writing group should respect everyone’s time and stay focused.

In part two, I’ll discuss writing-focused groups.

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