Readings/ critiques

Readings for the Tuesday night group are now booked up into May. This is in many ways a good thing; it shows that not only is the group lively and busy, but also that there’s lots of writing going on. However it’s also clear that we need more capacity for getting people the critiques on their own work that they need. The idea of the group was always to maintain a balance between community, craft and critique, and I think that balance is more or less right at the moment, so I don’t want to tinker with Tuesday nights too much. One option would be to add another critique week each month, but there wasn’t much enthusiasm for that last time it was suggested, and it only adds one other slot every month. I’m also not keen on the idea of splitting the group, or trying to set up another night along the same lines of Tuesdays. So I’m throwing it open to suggestions: how can we make sure everyone gets the opportunity to have their work critiqued when they need it, without spoiling what we’ve already got? All thoughts are welcomed- be creative, daft even, That’s sometimes where the best ideas come from.

25 thoughts on “Readings/ critiques

  1. louise says:

    A second critique night on, say, a Thursday, once a month? Every three weeks? Make it at least three readings, four maybe if they are short, dispensing with the round of introductions…

  2. Sophie says:

    Perhaps there could be an online critique option too? Members could sign up to submit a story online (somewhere where only members have access), then the group can respond by leaving comments. One or two online critiques a week.

    Not sure whether this would be acceptable in a group that is normally face-to-face. Just an idea!

  3. A selection of ideas which everyone will hate (I think I hate them myself):

    Get an extra slot into the monthly critique week by being strict on time and ruling that ‘the author may not speak outside of the reading except to say thank you’ ie no defending the work, no explaining that it all gets resolved in the following chapter, no outlining the rest of the plot – just listen to the reaction to what you just read and say thank you.

    While I like ‘on (virtual) paper’ critiques as there’s a lot more detail and reflection, they are time-consuming and that’s time we should be spending on our own writing so to make sure it’s fair have some kind of system of credits where you have to do a critique for someone else before you earn one of your own (everyone would need their first go for free). This is how one of the online writers’ groups I was in worked. It was horrible – you’d spend ages on something and get a one line ‘I like your dialogue’ followed by a chunk of your dialogue quoted back at you in return (there was a minimum word limit).

    Set up genre ‘buddy groups’ who critique for each other: scifi/fantasy, literary, historical, children’s/YA, etc so you know the comments are from folk who know your conventions.

    Feel free to dismiss all of the above. I can handle the criticism!

  4. David Wake says:

    This is an issue for me, an occasional member, because I saw last time that the list looked very full. Booked until May means that to critique what I’m working on, I must look elsewhere in the meantime. I won’t book June, because I don’t know if that would be useful as my writing will have moved on. By the time I know, then June and July will have gone. This will exclude people. For instance, I have an event due in February and so a reading before then would be very useful to me. This is impossible, so naturally I’m disaffected. (I’m trying to underline the importance of the issue here, rather than moan.)

    An extra session once a month won’t make any difference. It would have to be fortnightly or even an extra session weekly to cope with the backlog. You’ve only got to do the Maths.

    Going on-line for some of it is an option, but that’s not a friendly gathering in the pub.

    I do agree with Andy that daft ideas are needed. There’s a theory by Edward de Bono, the man who coined the expression ‘lateral thining’, about using illogical steps to arrive at an imaginative, and workable, solution. So…

    1. Split the group. Is there a natural split between, say, novelists and short story writers? One on Tuesdays and another on Thursdays, for example. I run a ‘writing for performance’ group, which has fractured into film versus stage, and then has naturally come back together again after the peak.

    2. Limit the time for each piece and get more in.

    3. Orgainse a script jam on, say, a Saturday to burn off the backlog. You could get through a lot more from 10am to 4pm with an hour for lunch than two hours (actually only an hour after the themed discussion) on a Tuesday.

    Or something else?

  5. Sofia says:

    I don’t like the idea of splitting the group for many reasons but also it hasn’t worked in the past. An additional day may be a problem for people with linited availability. How about increasing the length of the sessions by starting at 19:30 instead of 20:00 – that would create a minimum of 4 additional slots per month.

  6. Louise Palfreyman says:

    A script jam sounds fun. And The PowWow script jam has a nice ring to it. I’d be up for a day of it bi-monthly…we could open it to the public and sell tickets. Then we could ask the audience to also chip in with what they like or don’t like about readings. Not as big as Litfest (that would perhaps be a little too much to organise every two months…) but say an audience of 20-30? Listening to six readings…I’d welcome reading to strangers. I reckon people would come as well, if we invited them to bring their stuff too for an audience slot at the end.

    • David Wake says:

      In this day and age, with self-e-publishing, a writer not only needs to write, but also perform. I went to a workshop on this a while back. An event that eases people into this would be a very good idea.

  7. Nico J says:

    My ten-penneth…

    I’m most fond of the idea of another pure critique group every other week, with four slots and no introductions. If I was reading at such a night, I really couldn’t stay for any more than 2 hours and 4 readings – my mind would start to bleed, and I’d worry about reading first and wanting to leave.

    Surely these 8 new monthly slots would sort the jam out instantly? If there were too many slots, it might not be so well attended, as well as the session itself being too long. So what were the issues with this before? Would it be a pain to organise? Could it be run in such a way that took the heat off Andy, or didn’t require his presence every time, if that were an issue?

    It would likely have the effect of thinning the group out a touch – with some people not going to the main session if they were reading at the pure-critique, and vice-versa; achieving the broad effect of splitting the group, but without any of the downsides or permanence.

    Quick thoughts on the other approaches raised…

    – A script jam strikes me as one of those things that sounds awesome on paper…but I wouldn’t go, it seems like a lot of work, who’s actually going to buy tickets, and who’s going to be around for five hours on a saturday with any degree of regularity? Not I. I wouldn’t want to read out to the public, and (damn my small-mindedness) wouldn’t really want to hear from the public either.

    – Online critique – yeah, I share Katharine’s cautionary-tale view. Perhaps something like this could be organised parallel to the group, by those willing? Similar to genre buddy groups?

    – Split the group – vote against.

    – Limiting what the author can and can’t say in the face of critique would seem a great shame. Some of the best moments/discoveries have come from such discussions.

  8. AK says:

    Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts. David, I recognise the problem you’re identifying. For a while the system worked quite well in terms of giving preference to regulars (on the basis that they’ve listened to and critiqued other people’s work, and earned their slots) without excluding anybody, but if you’re looking at four or five months before you get a chance to read then it’s a big disincentive to new or occasional members. That’s why we need something new.

    Splitting the group is simply not an option. It would be very damaging to the community aspect. There’s another thing I’d like everyone to bear in mind too: that this is no longer a hobby for me, but my livelihood. If I end up doing two sessions for half the number of people at each, I’ve just doubled my workload for nothing, and I can’t afford to do that.

    An online critique facility is easy peasy to set up- I’ll do it and see what happens. People will need to ask me for an ID to access it though. We can’t expose people’s unfinished, unpublished work to the open internet, with all the trolling and spamming that involves. Katharine, I recognise the problems you’re talking about, but hope it would be different given that we all know each other. A credit system would be difficult to implement, but we could see if people do it on a quid pro quo basis. I can tell you now though I would not be able to provide written critiques outside the group, I just don’t have the time.

    So we’re left with the idea of a separate, critique only session. We would have to be very strict on time though- half an hour each, no break, and everybody arriving on time. (It would be very disrespectful I think to turn up late to somebody’s reading if you were expecting them to give you feedback later.) On that basis it would be up to the reader to decide how they wanted to use that time, i.e. how long their reading was, how much preamble or post-amble they do…

    I love the idea of selling tickets, but I suspect there wouldn’t be many takers. Also, there is an issue in that it’s different sharing a rough draft with other writers who understand that it’s a work in development, to reading it in front of the general public. Would other group members want to come to such a session, even if they weren’t reading themselves? Would they be prepared to pay, maybe just a couple of quid? I’m sorry if I sound mercenary, but I have to earn a living and feed my children…

    • David Wake says:

      I do think that it’s very positive to be discussing options. (A shame people have voted early, excluding the chance of developing an idea to something that might work. For example, I’m against splitting myself, because all groups need a critical mass to work and clearly Pow-wow has achieved that. However, talking about it might lead to an even better idea.)

      There is an improv group that does ad-hoc performances and I wonder if a manuscript reading on that sort of bill might work. It would be entertaining for the audience, useful for reactions and critiques. You might go for a sort of a manuscript versus scriptless quiz style.

      • Shona Currie says:

        I don’t think people are excluding discussion on splitting the group simply by stating their strong preferences not to do so. That’s why I feel ok saying that I also would not want the group to split but am open to discussing any and all ideas.

        I do think the system has worked well for regular attendees (including new ones) for a long time and that therefore any changes should be made gradually, leaving room to build on and develop aspects that work/don’t.

        If we set up an additional night of critique, we can make little adjustments to try and get the most out of it. I learn a lot from regularly listening to critiques so I would definitely attend an additional slot. I think strict timings would be a must.

        I would struggle in attending a longer session on a Tuesday.

        I think the online critique page is a great idea but I don’t think we’ll ever be able to rely on it. It would just be a kind of bonus if anyone got feedback through it. I also think we need some kind of alert system for when someone posts on it and the option to send you critique privately for fear of your critique being critiqued, so to speak.


        • David Wake says:

          Certainly Tuesday nights seem to work for everyone. The group has become successful enough that it needs to expland and grow, but the real danger is that you break what’s good in the process.

        • David Wake says:

          The improv do a sketch, then a writer reads something and the audience get to vote. At the end, if the improv group has won more points, they get to read the credits in a style of my choosing; whereas if the writer wins, they get a book contract.

          It’s a thought.

  9. AK says:

    The online critique page now exists… just needs someone brave enough to try it out. You’ll need to ask me for an ID, you can’t access it without one.

  10. Elaine Moxon says:

    There are some great ideas coming from this discussion, however we do need to be mindful as Andy said that it is his living. There is also the time required to operate certain ideas. For instance, adding another critique night once a month/fortnightly would require payment, plus time from Andy to run it. Likewise a script jam would require hire fees and someone to organise it. In contrast, an online critique system is cheap and time effective for all.

    Providing everyone is happy to contribute time and expense, I am happy to consider the following:
    – An extra critique night, perhaps a Thursday as Louise suggested, the same length as a Tuesday.
    – An online critique section.
    – A script jam, though purely members only (no public or tickets) on a weekend, with breaks and time to get lunch.
    – Buddy Groups who could organise their own gatherings to critique for each other.

    Other ideas I thought of (feel free to discuss!):
    – A rota of all members’ names on a rolling basis for critique slots.
    – Restricting members to one slot a month

    I am strongly against splitting the group, however David’s idea to have novel/short story sections could be considered. Perhaps we could have Full MSS on a Tuesday critique and Shorts on a Thursday critique, but where all members can attend, although only those from that section can book that day to critique? (Hope that makes sense). Again though, this requires extra attendance from Andy and will be doubling or more our fees.

    • David Wake says:

      Possibly, to use the split idea as a spring board, maybe if enough people have short stories (or film scripts or whatever), then the Thursday Special covers some themed area, leaving Tuesday safe.

  11. Have to say, I’m not sure about the ‘script jam’ idea. There are already events where you can get performance experience such as Word Up or the evenings organised by Pigeon Park Press, etc. I personally wouldn’t want to ‘perform’ anything I didn’t think was ‘ready’ and don’t think I’d want to be publicly critiqued. I also couldn’t listen and give useful feedback for more than two hours.

    Here’s another idea to throw into the mix: only have the slots open for booking for up to 5/6 weeks ahead rather than so many months in advance. Then if someone new comes they have an opportunity to put their name down for the near future and regular attendees still have as many options as we currently have. It might mean a bit of elbowing each other out the way to get in the door each week and grab the open slots! There’s probably also mileage in Elaine’s idea of restricting people to a self-policed once every month/six weeks limit. Or the rota idea with occasional slots left open for new folk coming in – we could then swap our allocated slots between ourselves to get timings to suit.

    I am of course part of the problem having booked myself 3 slots to read in the coming 14 weeks and having used 7 slots over last year. Perhaps Andy can look at the sorts of numbers of attendees and work out what’s realistic eg each member can anticipate getting to read 5 times a year if they turn up regularly and book their slots while protecting new/less regular members by holding slots open for them?

  12. AK says:

    Apologies for not coming back on this, I was hoping to have something definite to say. I’ve talked to the Prince about running an additional critique night, and they’re happy in principle, but I haven’t been able to get a date confirmed yet. My thought is that we will have an extra night, once a month (to begin with), ideally the second Wednesday (Thursdays are not good for me.) The format will be four readings, 30 minutes each, strictly enforced, leaving it up to the writer how much of that time they use for reading and how much they leave for feedback. So we’d finish at 10.15 or so, to allow for a break.

    I’ve never noticed anybody have more than one reading a month, but that seems like a good rule of thumb. The online facility has been up for a couple of weeks, and there’s still only one short piece and one comment. It costs nothing to leave it up, but I’m not optimistic it’ll be much used. I think the monthly crit night will be the solution. I’ll let you know when I’ve got a definite date.

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