Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Naked Writers, A Critique Group

Most of you know that I'm a member of Valley Writers in Roanoke. We have between 15 and 20 active members. By active, I mean they regularly attend our semimonthly meetings and read poetry, essays, or parts of novels.

Those of us who write long-form works, e.g., novels or memoirs, found it difficult to get enough input on our work without dominating every meeting. That would have led to righteous indignation or a rebellion from the group. To encourage the long-form folks and help them improve their craft, we formed a separate critique group.

Called The Naked Writers, the group meets on a semi-monthly basis, is made up of five people, and travel from house to house for the meetings. Why Naked Writers? It's not because we write in the nude (although that's an idea for spring/summer), but that we bare our souls in our work. And we are silly enough to ask for constructive criticism.

This worked well -- until the bad weather began. We faced a dilemma: give up meeting until spring or use technology. We chose to try technology. We set ourselves on Skype, audio only, no video, hard or soft copy in front of each writer.

With five members, we learned at our first meeting that only two could be critiqued in a single evening. With around 10-12 pages, that's a lot of creativity to explore.

Last night, Skype worked for four of the five members. The fifth had his satellite Internet access die during the afternoon. We thought of him fondly as we ate cheese and crackers and sipped wine.

I was on the hot seat first. I write fiction and asked the group to workshop my second Mad Max novel. Input included grammos and typos (No, a secondary character is not named Sucks. It's Ducks, but it was a funny typo), sloppy transitions, a discussion on why a Brit would say "brilliant" instead of "terrific." Also had a discussion about doormen buildings in NYC. I don't think I'm going to explain why they are so good (you need money to live in one; they are safe for widows, etc.) Our Buck Nekkid Redneck Writer pointed out problems with voice that I hadn't seen.

The second writer is working on an allegory with strong Vietnamese overtones. Part of the problem we all had with his draft was forced use of an Irish dialect. He hates me, because every time the dialect became too strong, I kept calling for Barry Fitzgerald in Bells of St. Mary's. He didn't find it funny, but the only writer I can tolerate who writes in a sustained Irish dialect is Frank McCourt. Alas, my allegorist isn't yet a Frank McCourt.

Next time, the Buck Nekkid Redneck Writer, who writes "redneck" fiction (what else?!), the memoirist, and the YA fantasy writer are up. I know, that's three, but BNRW said his chapter would be short. We'll see. If we are virtual, I don't mind because I don't have an hour drive home after the meeting.

We still need to work out the kinks in using Skype, while at the same time working out how to provide positive criticism without putting everyone in the hot seat. Starting a meeting with a negative image so turns me off.

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