Writing is a solitary endeavor often taking place in a workspace carved out in a bedroom, the den, or perhaps the basement (or attic) of the writer’s home. The more co-occupants in the residence, the smaller and more remote the area set aside for her creative sessions.
An author can spend hundreds of hours alone crafting each sentence, paragraph, and chapter, lost in a world inhabited by characters of her own imagination. Subsequent periods of editing and rewriting, including restructuring and major plot deviations, add to the total time the novelist, poet, journalist, or playwright spends to complete her masterpiece.
But all the time spent in solitude is not enough to achieve a truly polished product ready for publication. It is crucial for the author to receive impartial analysis of the work.
Such independent review can come from a friend or relative—an interesting and helpful, but not always effective, first step. A more expensive option is to engage the services of a professional editor. Between these two extremes is one of the most useful tools for any author, regardless of the stage of her writing career: the writer’s feedback group.
Here are a few things I’ve learned in my personal experience with feedback groups.
- Group “meetings” can be in-person, via email, in an online chat-room, through private website exchanges, or even via snail mail. Personally I think the group dynamic is more active and, therefore, more helpful when the meeting is a face-to-face encounter. This is not always practical or possible, but this century’s internet options are almost as good.
- Group members are typically “selected” by fate and opportunity. This is not a bad way to pick a group or a new member. The important thing is for all members to respect one another’s opinions and to agree on the format, such as that described in item 3.
- Group members should establish a time limit for each reviewed item. Author of work being reviewed should specify what and why work is being presented and, in particular, what assistance Author needs. Another member of the group—not the Author—should read aloud the piece being considered. Members should offer only positive comments, suggestions, and questions, keeping negative criticism to themselves (remember what Mom said—“If you can’t say …”). Reviewers should be brief and to the point to allow everyone to speak. Author should accept comments graciously, avoid rebuttals, and ask for clarification if a comment is unclear. Additional discussion should be taken offline from the group.
- Leaving the group is okay. A day may come when you are not getting everything you need from the group. Perhaps the membership dynamics have become uncomfortable for you or are no longer helpful. There are many reasons to leave and you will know when it’s time. Be courteous, give some notice, suggest a new member to replace you, and be on your way to your next writer’s feedback group.