Friday, December 23, 2011

FINDING THE RIGHT CRITIQUE GROUP

When people call the Willamette Writers office and ask about finding a critique or support group, I suggest they consider that there are three basic types of groups: support, light critique, and heavy critique.

A Support group is for writers to come together and encourage each other to write. It might include social time for a meal or visiting.

A Light Critique group could have specific rules about offering a critique: a time limit for comments, a rule about starting or ending with a positive comment, time limits on how long someone can respond to a critique, etc.

There is no one convention about how a light critique group functions. Author Orson Scott Card has created a system he calls a Wise Reader to help get useful feedback. It can be used for light critique.

Heavy Critique groups are often authors published by a mainstream presses who meet to get feedback from professional peers. This kind of group is often a no-holds barred session, where an author just wants an unvarnished critique of a manuscript from writers with skills they admire or respect.

Heavy Critique groups tend to form and go off the radar, since such groups don't often revolve around mentoring or critiquing unpublished authors.

I get the occasional call from an unpublished author who only wants to be critiqued by New York Times best-selling authors. I can't help.


I suggest that authors try two or three different groups to find a group that meets their needs. Sometimes personalities will clash, or a group will have a too narrow focus (mysteries only, or horror, or fantasy).

Some groups start out as light critique groups and become support groups or social groups. That can meet the needs of some, but not others. This can also happen if too many of the members of a group are not consistently offering new work for critique.

Some groups will have authors who become defensive or angry when they are critiqued. This can become a question of whether an author is getting enough valuable feedback to figure out the personalities in a group. If someone gives a great critique but only wants vague praise in return, figure out if that works for you. Some people join groups for an audience, not a critique.


Some authors will have well-defined and defended boundaries around what they consider acceptable in a critique, and consequences for those who violate their boundaries. For folks like this, vague praise is sometimes the only safe bet.

In theater, you'll come across guided critiques when plays have public readings. A moderator can sit on the stage with a playwright and field questions. Questions that are considered outside the feedback considered appropriate are turned aside by the moderator. The goal is to ensure the playwright gets useful feedback and not unchecked commentary about how another playwright would rewrite his or her play.

This format is used for the script reading series that has been held at the Willamette Writers conference.

In classes I teach, I generally don't allow open-ended critiques of people's work because of a consistent problem with some people launching into 'this is how I would tell this story.'


Finding the right group can be difficult, but the rewards can be great.

That can also mean moving on when the rewards aren't there.

You'll know you're in the right group when you find it.

Good luck.


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Bill Johnson is the office manager of Willamette Writers and the author of A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004V020N0

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Northwest Author Series

A Story is a Promise: The Essentials of Storytelling

I'm doing a presentation at Christina Katz' Northwest Author Series in Wilsonville on February 26th. I'll be speaking about the story is a promise principles, illustrating them with the openings to novels like The Hunger Games and George R R Martin's Game of Thrones.

The Northwest Author series takes place the third Sunday of each month during the school year and features traditionally published authors. The size of the typical audience is 30-50 writers.

Christina set up the series. Her first book, Writer Mama: How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids, was sold at the Willamette Writers conference in 2005 and published in 2007. Her second book in 2008, Get Known Before the Book Deal, was the first book to break down the steps of platform development for aspiring authors, a topic that has become extremely popular in the past few years. Her third book is The Writers Workbook.

The Northwest Author Series is sponsored by The Wilsonville Public Library and The Wilsonville Friends of the Library; info, http://northwestauthorseries.wordpress.com/2011-2012-media/

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Authors Road, John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck
Author #9

Next week marks the 43rd anniversary of the death of John Steinbeck, arguably one of America’s greatest writers and author who won almost every literary award available, including the Nobel Prize for Literature. As fellow authors, we can tell you that Steinbeck’s writing drives us nuts because it’s so damn good.

When we began this journey to meet America’s authors, we bought a truck we named “Rosinante Tres.” The first was, of course, Don Quixote’s faithful nag, and the second Rosinante was Steinbeck’s truck and camper in his Travels with Charley.

We drove Rosinante Tres to the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California where we met Herb Behrens. In a basement office crowded with Steinbeck photos and memorabilia Herb shared his passion on the subject of Steinbeck. And before you ask, yes, in this interview, Herb tells where Charley is buried.

With particular thanks to the National Steinbeck Center for arranging this interview, and to Herb for taking the time to enthusiastically share his knowledge – we are pleased to share with you this special interview in time for the Holidays.

And stay tuned. Our next interview is a spirited chat with Oregon’s fifth poet laureate, Lawson Inada.

Happy Holidays to All!

George, Salli & Ella

The Authors Road

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christina Katz Speaks to Willamette Writers

January 3rd, speaker Christina Katz, Topic: New Year, Fit Career: Five Flabby Habits To Lose & Five Healthy Habits To Keep

Christina is the author of three books from Writer's Digest: The Writer's Workout,Writers Workout Katz Get Known Before the Book Deal, and Writer Mama. Her writing career tips and parenting advice appear regularly in national, regional, and online publications. A "gentle taskmaster" over the past decade to hundreds of writers, Christina's students go from unpublished to published, build professional writing career skills, and increase their creative confidence over time. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Columbia College Chicago and a BA in English from Dartmouth College. A popular speaker on creative career growth, Christina presents for writing conferences, literary events, MFA writing programs, and libraries. She is the creator and host of the Northwest Author Series in Wilsonville, Oregon, where she lives with her husband, her daughter, and far too many pets. Learn more at http://www.ChristinaKatz.com.


All Portland meetings are held at the Old Church, SW 11th and Clay (1422 SW 11th). Doors open at 6:30 pm; the speaker or panel starts at 7 pm. Meetings are free to members of Willamette Writers and students; guests of WW members are $5. Non-members pay $10 to attend meetings. Refreshments are served.

Read more about Writers Faire in
Mary Andonian's column at http://www.willamettewriters.com/1/PMeetingColumn.php.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Author's Road Posts Jack London Review

Author # 8: Jack London

We’re pleased to introduce you to the first in our series that could be named, “The Dead Authors Society” – but we’re not that tacky. In addition to the exciting and very lively authors we’ve been interviewing, we realized there is a chance to also learn from experts on some of our deceased writers as well. In the month ahead we will also share our interviews with experts on John Steinbeck and Mark Twain.

But now, let us re-introduce you to a dynamic writer, listed by Writers Digest as one of the 20th Century’s 100 Most Influential Writers. Oyster pirate, boy socialist, self-educated, adventurer, gold prospector, seal hunter, novelist, and the world’s first millionaire artist, Jack London’s brief but brilliant and tumultuous life is legendary, and he’s been an inspiration to countless writers for the last century.

For fourteen years, Louis Leal, a volunteer at the Jack London State Park, has studied London’s life and art and shared his insights with the millions of visitors to The Jack London State Historic Park Wolf outside of Glen Ellen, California, less than two hours north of San Francisco.

Louis agreed to be interviewed for our series, and we met him at London’s cottage on a beautiful autumn day. Like so many others, we were enthralled with his stories and insights, and excited to be able to share with you. Go to www.authorsroad.com.

Also, if you’re interested in reading an article about us that appeared in the San Jose Mercury and Pacifica Tribune, go to http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_19435216?IADID=Search-www.mercurynews.com-www.mercurynews.com .
And today, Salli participated on behalf of Authors Road in a fun bloggin experience at JungleRedWriters.com

Stay tuned friends! Our next interviews to be posted will be with Oregon’s 5th Poet Laureate, Lawson Inada; and with Herb Behrens on John Steinbeck at the National Steinbeck Center.

Salli, George and Ella
The Authors Road