Friday, May 28, 2010

Work it for me

I found this post in a recent perusal of the interweb, and it got me thinking about writer groups, workshopping and feedback. Giving a useful critique of someone's work is hard. I'm still improving in this area I have to say, but generally I try to make sure everything I say is helpful in some way.

On the other hand, when receiving feedback, it's a bit like art - I don't know much about it, but I know what I like:

 - NOT a copy-edit. No punctuation corrections please. It can wait til the final edits. I don't need to know I haven't separated two clauses correctly when the whole novel's about to fall into a plot hole the size of the MCG. Unless you suspect I don't know the difference between a full-stop and a comma, in which case go for it.

 - Someone who can see what's missing, not just what should probably get taken out (this is far more common!). It's so valuable when someone says, 'I think what you need here is a bit about how the mother never really loved him and drowned his puppy when he was a kid. That will explain the whole chainsaw thing.'

 - A little bit of praise. It helps. And makes you feel like maybe writing some more.

 - Insights into your characters that you were lacking

 - Insights into situations that you've thrown at your characters ('Did you know that chainsaws actually run on diesel, not petrol? So he couldn't have siphoned the fuel out of her car.')

Fortunately, my workshopping group ticks all of these. If only someone could tell me exactly what to write so it would get published and earn me millions.


  1. Thanks for the link: all very true! And I'm so glad you've got a really good workshop group going and working for you. They just need to step up and tell you how to make those millions! LOL! and if they do, can I join too? :-)

    Oh giving feedback is hard - really and truly! I always am very positive and I hope helpful too. I hope!

    I don't think I'm ready yet for a full on critiquing group though! I did join a quasi one (youwriteon) online but that just degenerated into a lot of backbiting and bitterness! So I left.

    I think that's why I enjoyed- am enjoying- my two writing courses so far because we - the students - were and are all in the same boat so to speak and I have and am very lucky that my two writing tutors so far have been excellent in monitoring the group (online) and holding the discussion together. Their own grading and feedback on my assignments have also been very helpful and constructive.

    I like the "safeness" of a class in a (virtual) academic setting because it's at least overseen by a tutor even if I don't get very far with this writing malarky.

    Good luck with your writing!

    Take care

  2. This is very helpful. I want to be able to give good feedback in my writers' group so it's interesting to learn what kind of constructive criticism you find most useful.

    I also like it when my writers's group offers insights into my characters. When you've spent a lot of time getting into the heads of your characters you lose sight of how they appear to other people.

  3. Wow, if you have a workshop that does all this then you are truly blessed. So hard to find!

  4. Old Kitty - that's sad that the youwriteon group got petty. It's that thing again with the internet where people feel it's fine to behave how they wouldn't in real life (you hope they wouldn't, anyway!)

    On the other hand, sounds like the online class critiques are working for you, so good luck with it! My workshop group is also a class, but face-to-face, and our teacher made it clear what was or wasn't constructive feedback right from the start.

  5. helencaldwell - of course, this is just the things that I find helpful. My Novel teacher gave us the general guideline for giving feedback:
    1. Something you like about the piece of material
    2. Something that didn't work for you, or took you out of the story
    3. Something useful that you think could improve the story or part of it
    (aka the shit sandwich, but let's not be cynical!)

    I agree about the characters - a fresh pair of eyes is the best thing workshoppers can give you.

  6. KarenG - Yes I am lucky! I only hope I can hang onto some of them once the class finishes!

  7. The shit sandwich? Brilliant! I will be passing them round at my writers' group :)