Another “Stuff” Post

Okay, first of all, yes, I’ve changed my theme again. It’s not that I’m so much indecisive as I’m experimenting. I actually wanted to use this theme last time I switched but didn’t realize how versatile it is (for those of you who don’t use WordPress, you can sort of try on your themes before using them. Except they don’t always look like you can make ’em look when you activate them). Mostly I’m looking for something I can proof that’s easy on my eyes. I not only proof in my text box, I also proof after I publish the post because I sometimes spot mistakes there that I don’t see in the text box. My daughter liked the last theme I switched to, but it wasn’t my preferred one, so now I’ve switched to this one.

Besides, I’m kind of a gadget guy, so I like to change things up occasionally. I get bored leaving it one way. Heck, I tend to buy new watches (yes, I still wear one of those) just because I get bored with the one I’ve got.

Okay. Now that’s out of the way.

I just came from my writers’ group. I didn’t take anything to read tonight, which turned out to be just as well. This group has been around a long time, over twenty years, if I’m not mistaken. It’s run by Western author Dusty Richards and an old newspaper writer named Velda Brotherton. For those of you who read Westerns, as of this year Dusty has written 100 books. He has written some for the Ralph Compton estate as well as several under his own name. Considering that Westerns, as far as I can tell anyway, aren’t a real hot commodity in publishing right now (which is sad, in my opinion), I think that says something for him that he can get his stuff published.

Anyway, because our group is so old, attendance fluctuates. When I take reading material, I usually make twelve copies because that seems to be a happy medium. Some nights are like tonight in which I’d guess there were well over twenty people there, and others it’s more like ten or fifteen. You just never know from meeting to meeting. They’re a punctual group (they have to be), starting promptly at 6:30 P.M. and ending as close to 9:00 as possible. It rarely runs over that. Each participant can bring five pages of whatever work they want, and that includes poetry. We pass around copies, the author reads it aloud, and then everyone is free to comment on it. In other words, what we have is a critique group.

I like that. I mean, we joke and stuff, so it’s not 100% business 100% of the time, but we do keep our nose pretty close to the grindstone, simply because of time constraints. In order for everyone to read their material, it’s necessary.

We have a pretty diverse group, too. As I’m sure you’ve figured out, I do sf/f and I’m starting to experiment with crime fiction. We have a couple of mystery writers, one other guy is doing a space opera, there are a couple of romance writers, and one who thought she was a romance writer but then evidently figured out she wrote chick lit. Nothing wrong with that. We have one woman named Jan Morril (I hope I spelled that name right) who’s writing what I guess you’d call a historical novel. If I understand her history correctly, she is originally from Hawaii and is at least part Japanese. Her book, which she’s calling Broken Dolls, is about a Japanese family from California interred in a camp in Arkansas during World War II and the people they meet. It’s excellent writing, and I don’t understand everything that’s happening because I’ve missed large chunks of it. But what I’ve read is impressive and I’d like to read the entire book. I hope she finds a publisher for it, because it deserves to be out there. Anyway, we also have  a couple of humor writers who tend to do sketches rather than full-blown novel-length pieces, but that’s okay, too. There’s room for all kinds.

The thing is, I thought that’s basically what all writers’ groups did: got together and critiqued one another’s work. It’s interesting to me because it lets me sample stuff I wouldn’t normally read (and some of it I never will), and it’s been interesting educating most of them in what goes and doesn’t in sf/f. They just weren’t that familiar with the genre.

It seems. though, that the group my daughter belongs to doesn’t do that. They do a prompt session where they spend five minutes writing some kind of little flash fiction thing, and they’re given five words to use in a story for the next meeting (please correct me if I’m wrong, Jesi). From what I understand, it’s a small group, about eight people if I remember right, and they meet once a week just like my group does.

Now, I’m not one to criticize another group. It’s not like I’ve got the ultimate wisdom on what a writers’ group should be and/or do. But, while I like the little prompts and such that my daughter’s group does, I have to wonder if they’d get more out of it if they did some critiquing. I say this because I have grown considerably as a writer since I started going to this group I’m in and, with the exception of sharing whatever good news there might be (I’m still waiting for someone to jump up and down screaming “I got an agent!” or something similar), critiquing one another’s work is all we do. Well, that and eat the wonderful desserts one of the women brings every week.

So is anyone out there reading this part of a writers’ group besides me, my daughter and Russell (I know he reads this because he’s commented a couple of times)? If you are, what does your group do? Do you think critiquing should be a vital part of what a group does, or are there other ways to help group members?

I ask these questions because, as I said, this is what I pictured writers’ groups doing before I joined this one, and I think  I would have been surprised if they’d done anything else. But maybe my exposure to such things is too limited or something, so it’s gotten me to wondering and I thought I’d ask.

Well, I believe that’s enough rambling this time around. Let me know what you think in the way of groups. Or my new theme. I want it to be different but easy to read at the same time.




5 thoughts on “Another “Stuff” Post

  1. JesiMarie

    You got my group down. Though we do “critiques”. Well, it’s more like either everyone says “Oh that’s great! I love it! You should write more!” or they just rip into it like hungry sharks. There’s no middle ground. And it’s never written on paper, just that we read it out loud and they speak, or we go on to the next person to read. That’s it. It actually makes me sad. I wanted a real critique, like what your group does. I’ve tried looking for other writing groups in the LA area, but they’re basically all screen writing groups and that’s not my cup of tea, unfortunately. Momma said I should suggest the critique thing, but I don’t think any of the people in the group but one person could really afford to make copies for everyone.

    Oh well. I’ll live I guess.

    1. gilmiller Post author

      Well, the advantage to making copies, of course, is that everyone can mark things they think are wrong, including typos. We reserve verbal stuff for actual story structure critiques, while typos and such are just marked. It’s great that way cuz that means you don’t have to try to keep up with what everyone is saying, though most of us do make notes on our reading copy. One thing I’d like to see our group do more of is having someone else read our stuff instead of reading it ourselves (I mean when it’s read out loud). The advantage there is that, when you read your own stuff, you know how you said it. But having someone else read it out loud puts another perspective on it and lets you know if you’ve phrased things in a way that’s confusing to another reader. After all, you know what you meant when you wrote it, but someone else might find it confusing.

      What you might do to get critiquing started is offer to make comments yourself, or maybe you and Jules both do it. In other words, use a soft sell to introduce the idea. Show them what it means to critique, rather than just letting them say they love it or hate it. If one of them starts ripping into it, ask them what parts of it they don’t like. Likewise, for the ones that like it, ask them what they like about it. Tell them you know there has to be mistakes cuz you’re only human. It sounds like what needs to happen is people in the group need to learn how to critique, and that isn’t easy. I’m still learning how. The main thing is to read the stuff with an eye toward what works and what doesn’t. Look for inconsistencies, like a character wearing red shoes on page 212 and white ones on 213, things like that. For instance, we had a guy at last night’s reading who’s writing a Western and he had a stagecoach arriving on time on one page and saying it was late on the next. I’ve done things like that myself. You get caught up in the creativity and forget to iron out the details and sometimes it takes someone else to point it out for you.

      In other words, maybe if you can show them the advantages to critiquing one another’s work then they’ll catch on. There’s nothing wrong with the exercises you’re doing now, and with your small group you may be able to keep doing some or all of them. Maybe alternate weeks or something. You don’t want to just come in and change everything because that’ll alienate everyone from you. They’ll think you’re trying to take over. Give it a try, take it slow, and see what happens.

      And I have an edit on my comments. but it doesn’t pop up until after it’s published. Try hovering your cursor at the bottom of the comment to see if a menu appears. It may be that I have it cuz it’s my blog, but I even have the option to edit your comments, so maybe it’ll be there for you.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. Russell

    I treat my critiqued papers like marked homework. Sometimes people will suggest a word substitute that makes the story a whole lot stronger. When I first started reading at the writers group I came home with papers that had marks all over them. Lately, I’ve had a lot less corrective marks on my returned copies. I take that as a sign of improved writing. Gil failed to mention that when you really nail it – they write positive comments in the column. That is very encouraging as well.

    I’m a little uncomfortable with critiquing others when all I’ve had is a couple of poems and short stories published in anthology books. However, if everyone sat there on their thumbs and no one spoke up we would never grow. All I know is the group has been very good for me, on several levels, and I really enjoy the commaraderie and friendships I made.

    1. gilmiller Post author

      You’re right, Russell. I intended to mention the positive comments but forgot. Like you, my negative comments have decreased while my positive ones have increased, and I believe it is a sign of improvement. The upside of that to me is that it also helps me to spot what needs critiqued in my own work and others’. I can compare it to what I’ve written before that got gigged, along with things I remember from other writers in the group, and it helps me when I edit my own stuff.

      Thanks for bring this up.


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