Tuesday, January 12, 2010

An hour (maybe two) in the life

First of all, thank you to everyone who has already left comments for the Comment Challenge. You people rock! I may not be at five a day, but I've already visited many new blogs and left comments where appropriate.

It occurred to me that it's been a while since we've posted anything specific about critique and how the Slushbusters work at a meeting. We have a meeting this Tuesday, with a possible guest, so I thought it might be a good time to review our process. It certainly isn't the only way to run a critique meeting, but it works for us.

We generally meet on Tuesday evenings. Sometime around Thursday or Friday before we meet, anyone with a submission sends it to the group in an email attachment. This gives us the weekend to look at it. We decided a while ago that we'd limit to five submissions per meeting. We just don't have time to review more than that. We did an "opt out" for a while, rotating who submitted when, but lately we aren't all ready to submit at the same time, so we usually have about three or four people's work to look at. The length of a submission can be a chapter ranging from 3-12 pages, or a complete picture book manuscript.

I'm not sure how everyone else works on their critiques once they have them, but I have a folder for each Slushie in a larger Critiques folder on my desktop. I "track changes" and make comments and notes, and "save as" an edited version of the original. I tend to copy edit because I'm a grammar geek, and I'll also make comments along the lines of "Love this sentence! Great sensory information" or "I'm confused here...is she still in the carriage?"or, "Is this too big a word for a nine-year-old character to use?" I also like to highlight words that are used a lot. I don't think anyone else in the group does that.

If it's a short submission, I print out a draft copy to bring to the meeting. If it's a longer one, I copy all my notes into a one or two page document named for the writer, like "Sarah comments." Then I print that. In Lisa's case, since she is not physically present, I email my comments back to her.

When we meet, we set up the laptop and open Skype and get Lisa online. Usually this time is mixed with us catching up on the past couple of weeks and getting something to eat or drink. We meet at Panera, and I always come straight from work, so I'm juggling notes, laptop and dinner. If someone has news, a rejection letter they need to vent about, or anything like that, we share it.

When we critique, we focus on one person's work at a time, often starting with Lisa in case the Skype acts up or she needs to go, as she's in a different time zone. Each Slushbuster comments about the work. Sometimes we disagree, but more often someone will comment and someone else will say "I noticed that too." Our favorite times are when we see a revision that really shows improvement over the last draft we saw. We try to be specific and to be honest with both positive and negative feedback. It's no fun hearing all bad things about your work, but hearing only good things doesn't help anyone improve. Whoever wrote the piece being discussed is usually quiet while the others talk, unless someone asks her to clarify. If someone is having trouble with a particular aspect of her story, we might brainstorm solutions.

When all the critique is finished, sometimes we talk about you. :) Not you personally, but you, our blog readers and the blog. We may talk about interviews that are coming up on the blog and who is doing them. We may also plan for events like conferences. If we're really ahead of schedule and no one is threatening to kick us out of Panera, we might even do a writing exercise. That happened a lot more often when our group was only three or four people.

That's it. Not magic, exactly, but something much better than always working in a vacuum inside our own heads. It does wonders for a work in progress.


Alison said...

Oh hey, we might have a guest tonight! Sweet! (That's my teenager rubbing off on me...) I have missed the last 2 or even 3 meetings so I am PSYCHED for tonight! Even if I'm not submitting, I really miss you guys and the meetings when I cant attend. See you all there.

Tess said...

I'm completely amazed you are able to meet every week. That's dedication!

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for sharing your critique process. It's similar to how my critique group works (though we don't have a Skype member). I'm curious--how long do your meetings usually last?

Michelle said...

Tess, we meet twice a month, not every week. That would be too much! And like I said, not everyone has work to submit each time.

Carmela, our meetings last about two hours, give or take. We're restricted by Panera's closing time, which helps us stay on track.

Tara McClendon said...

That sounds like a good way to run a critique. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great group (with a great name)! I love the idea of using Skype. My critique group is trying out Wave right now, and so far it's good. I think I'll introduce Skype to them as well for those times when we're not able to meet up in person. Thanks for the info.

Sarah said...

Amy, Skype was a wonderful addition. We'd never considered it before, but about a year ago, Lisa moved away. We didn't want to lose her, so we worked to incorporate Skype.

Michelle took care of the technical aspects, and it took a few meetings to figure out how to move through the critiques.

There are normally a few technical problems (last night was no exception!) especially when Panera is busy. But it's so worth it!

Sandra Stiles said...

Yea! I found you through the comment challenge. I have been looking for blogs about writing as well as reading. Your critique process has given me something to think about. I am starting a writing class after school for middle school students and have two who have been working on a novel all year. They want to learn how to critique each other's work. Thanks for the information.

Sarah said...

Welcome, Sandra! Your middle school writing group sounds like a great idea. I look forward to hearing about it.