Writing Exercises: "Enlisting Others to Review Your Work"

I'm finally back from the insanity of the holidays and ready to get back into these blog posts! With this post I also have an announcement concerning the Writing Exercises posts. As I'm almost finished combing the contents of Writer with a Day Job, I will be continuing the Writing exercise posts through another book titled: The 3 a.m. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises That Transform Your Fiction by Brian Kiteley.

With this next book, we'll be switching gears and tackling challenge, brain wracking prompts to explore our writing further (without the necessity of getting up at 3 A.M. to do so).

There are only three posts remaining that will focus on Greaney's book that will appear on this blog, so we'll be switching gears very soon. Without further adieu, let's discuss enlisting others to review your work.

I would begin with a post about editing your own work before focusing on the topic of others doing so but, although this may be backwards to do, I prefer to do this in the opposite order as I feel this dulls down the possibility of developing a meddling ego towards criticism. So I'll save the topic of editing your own writing for the next one.

Let's be honest: sharing your work, especially the first time, is terrifying. You feel judged because quite literally, you're having a group of strangers criticize a piece of yourself you've molded from nothing. Its one of those first-times you'll never forget. Just like any first-time's however, its important to experience it about a hundred more times. As a writer, your expected to constantly practice and improve your craft.

There's a lot you can edit on your own, but at the end of the day if you're not pleasing your intended audience, you're going to have a serious problem. That's where critique circles and writing communities come in.

Before we go any further though, I should state the obvious since we are using Writer With a Day Job as a guide to unveil knowledge: in your busy work weeks, you're going to have to chose one evening (or afternoon or morning) to commit to meeting with your writing circle.

This particular aspect of writing circles will be tricky at first, to this day many times I simply have to email my manuscript to a member of my writing community because work takes up way too much time for us to meet up in person. The key is however, that you must keep to your commitment as a writer, which will involve being active in your writing community.

Here's a piece of advice I received at a writing conference from David Stuart MacLean, author of his memoir: The Answer to the Riddle is Me. In a panel focusing on how to make a living as a writer he said the following:

"As a writer you have to constantly be around writing. You have to keep yourself in a situation where you're going to have to write. Find yourself a writing community that you can be a part of so as to keep forcing yourself to write."

This is a crucial step to your art as a writer. Even if your community can only meet online, start enlisting people who share your passion for writing and start hashing out a schedule. I may extend the number of posts related to Writer with a Day Job to further discuss this topic as it is exceedingly important.

Let's refocus however as I refuse to spend this entire blog post rambling. Enlisting others to critique your writing. This is a tough, emotional tool every writer must utilize for their craft. Critique circles prepare you for the most important steps every writer will eventually take when it comes to publishing. Critique circles prepare you for rejection, negotiating edits, acceptance of ideas and most importantly, collaborative thinking in the writing world.

Next post we will explore how to determine which kinds of critique groups are best for you and how to find them but for now, I'll introduce the most basic types of writing workshops I know of, including the ones Greaney has listed in her book:

1) Peer led groups:

If you're in college, chances are you meet a few awesome people in your creative writing class who jump at the chance for a peer led group on campus. These groups can range from five to ten people (mine had nine) and, if you're lucky, they'll last past graduation. There are paid peer-led groups out there that provide food and beverage but I've experience word-of-mouth more often and simply met fellow writers at cafes and restaurants to write and exchange pieces.

2) Instructor or mentor led

Chances are these are creative writing classes on a college campus or community center. These are more formal and will last longer (two hours or more, especially if a college class) but are usually run by someone equipped to teach (usually). I always advocate for "instructor window-shopping" if you go this route because in my experience, I've always met a knowledgeable mentor but found I was learning their expertise. No complaints, but for me, the topic had to be interesting enough to get me to sit in the whole time. That's simply what you're going to get here so either you're all for it or not.

3) Social only

So this particular group is true to its namesake: its more social. This one involves hiring a writing coach with the tendency of your attending a potluck social of writers and talking shop--some critique to appear. I have friends who function well with this but in my experience, I get distracted with this particular group. I love talking shop, but talking shop ends up being all I end up doing. People will also put money in if they want a guest speaker to join them, which is neat in its own way. If this is your thing the definitely be apart of it, its just not my cup of tea.

4) Topic-specific groups

These are the groups you'll find listed online or in the newspaper, magazines, etc. They're topic specific (politics, blogging, article writing, etc) or genre specific (sexuality, Sci-fi, memoir, etc). These tend to either come with a fee or are in a community center. I attend these more often than not, but in my experience it has been through occasion rather than simply going for fun. The advantage here though, if you're wanting to start a brand new genre, or polish another attempt at the genre you've dipped into before, you'll have plenty of people who may know better about the topic to offer guidance.

5) Online & blend of in-person

As the title suggest, I dip into this one personally because my schedule varies with that of my community frequently. Unlike the others that require attendance, these are a bit more free-range and hands-off without deadlines of meeting once or twice a month. That being said though, they do still require discipline. You'll exchange pieces via email and possibly set dates to meet whenever possible with edits. Commitment is still required here, its just a bit more flexible in comparison. The advantage here too though, is that you could be exchanging writing with people in other cities. There are no limits in terms of "meeting" when it comes to being online.

Writing communities can either be created or found in your local area, I'd strongly encourage the search to begin if you haven't already. You owe it to your writing and now have the chance to do so.

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