Last Saturday morning I met with 4 writers via Instant Messaging for a 2-hour critique session focused on the first 5 pages of their novels. A couple of weeks ahead of time they emailed their first chapters to me and I distributed them to the participants. There was also a $15 fee per writer. The writers were in 4 different time zones; since I'm on PST, we started at 7:00 a.m. The workshop turned out to be fun, and productive for the writers.
Each writer's work was the focus of a 30-minute segment, with yours truly leading the discussion. Except for a brief period when one participant's Internet connection kicked her off, there were no technical glitches.
The focus was on storytelling, not line editing. The question posed to the group at the beginning of each critique was this: You're a weary, weary, weary agent. Your eyes hurt. Are you going to ask this writer to see more? And why/why not?"
The answers were honest and informative. That led the way to identification and discussion of storytelling issues that, in one way or another, dulled the power of each narrative.
I was impressed by the professionalism of each of the writers, and how they were quick to offer suggestions to help members of the group deal with issues that the critique brought up.
At the end of the session, all the writers volunteered that it had been very useful, and I've since heard more from a couple of the participants.
"I was pleased at all the good suggestions I received. I think it was definitely worth the minimal price
--especially if it includes additional notes from you after the fact. (It does.) I participate in a "real life" critique group, and our professor charges $300 for 10 weeks, so yours is a real bargain!
"Your guidelines were a good way to keep everyone thinking about meta topics as opposed to line edits, which I appreciated. Too often I have been in critique sessions where people focused on the minutiae, which is all right for final drafts, but much less useful for working drafts.
"I especially appreciated your summary of the conversation towards the end of each person's allotted time. That really helped to focus my mind on what my next steps should be when working on my manuscript.
"All in all, I really enjoyed it and would definitely recommend it to others."
"The workshop was definitely worth the money. I think it's always helpful to have others look at my manuscript, because they're able to offer fresh insights and suggestions for improvement that I may be unable to see. The feedback I received during the workshop has certainly helped me to see my manuscript in a new light. I also enjoyed working with the other writers on their manuscripts and offering suggestions to them."
Helen wrote this:
"I found the FtQ online workshop to be both helpful and motivational. It's always good to get feedback from other writers. In this case, those other writers were strangers who had no preconceived ideas about me or my writing.
"The comments were insightful and encouraging. The workshop ran smoothly, particularly since Ray kept everyone on track and directed the group with questions. I learned a lot not only from the part devoted to my writing, but also from the discussion of other people's works. For me, it was worth the money and time, and I feel motivated to make the suggested changes."
I'll follow up by giving the writers all of the notes I made for the session, something I also do in the writer's conference workshops. I've heard from two more writers who are interested in doing this, and I'll set up another session if two more qualified writers sign up.
The process: email an attachment to me of the opening chapter of your novel (include a prologue if you're using one). I evaluate the samples to make sure the writing skills of the writers are compatible, and then let folks know. The match-up is important in assuring that each writer has the necessary potential for both contributing to the critique and benefiting from it. So let me know: email ray at editorrr dot com.
The workshop is an online version of the one I'm doing at writer's conferences, one of which I did the preceeding weekend. The key differences between the two are:
In the conference version, the attendees don't know who the critiqued writers are or even if they are in the room. This lends itself to straightforward analysis and content.
Steve, a writer whose work was a subject of the Write on the Sound conference two weeks ago said,
"I had a great time
--I got to be invisible while something like thirty people discussed my work. Valuable info."
Diane wrote this about her experience:
"I felt that several of the comments were valid and insightful. They certainly gave me ideas for new treatments for my manuscript. The written comments and editing you did on my manuscript were helpful, too. I thought I was good at practicing 'less is best' and paring away extra words, but found that there was still fat to be trimmed."
In the online session, each participant was semi-unknown
I don't know if I've invented a new form of critiquing, both in workshops and online, but I'm happy with the way it seems to be helping writers by giving them multiple sets of fresh eyes quickly and easily. So far, every participant has been well satisfied.
After all, what's more fun that talking about writing?
For what it's worth,
Free edit. Email a sample for an edit that I can post here.
© 2006 Ray Rhamey