When the deed is done: How to run an effective writer’s critique group

“Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.”
      — Larry L. King, WD

Once the writing is done, you should definitely pop a champagne and celebrate.

But guess what happens next?

You can either have a sucky first draft of your novel forever, or you can get stuck into editing it.

Unfortunately, almost everyone is absolutely terrible at seeing the story issues or the misspellings in their own writing, so you need a writers’ critique group (a “crit group”).

So how do you find a good group? What should you be looking for when you need someone to really dig into your work (a critiquer or “critter”)?

What should you focus on when it’s your turn to crit someone else’s work?

And what should you be aiming for when you are the one running the crit group?

I ran the Dugong Writer’s Critique Group for two years as Facilitator and served as Secretary for two years before that while it was run by our founder, Grace Dugan, author of The Silver Road (ebook available from Penguin or on Kindle from Amazon). The group ran from 2007 through 2010 and we learned many valuable lessons from the experience.

Read on for tips not just from my group, but also from BWF presenters Vision Writers Group and memoir author Claire Dunne.

Today’s post will be charmingly illustrated by the creative folk worldwide who put captions on photos of cats.

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Is that a real word?

P.L. Travers (played by Emma Thompson) with the scriptwriter and songwriters responsible for the Disney movie version of Mary Poppins

P.L. Travers (played by Emma Thompson) with the scriptwriter and songwriters responsible for the Disney movie version of Mary Poppins
Image Source: Robert Deluce

Richard Sherman: Room here for everyone / Gather around / The constable’s “responstible”! / Now how does that sound?

P.L. Travers: No, no, no, no, no! “Responstible” is not a word!

Richard Sherman: We made it up.

P.L. Travers: Well, un-make it up.

Richard Sherman: [Hides sheet music of ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’.]

Scene from Saving Mr. Banks

 

I edited a book once by an author who used words wrong.  Just plain wrong.  There’s no other way to say it.

He said “supposably” and “supposedly” (those aren’t real words!) instead of “suspiciously” (which is not even close to the meaning of those “words”).

When I called him on it the first few times, he got all snippy.  “How do you know what’s a real word and what isn’t?  I hear people saying ‘supposably’ all the time.”

“Um, that’s my job.  I get paid to know correct grammar and spelling.  And that’s honestly not a real word.  And even if it was a real word now, which it’s not, it’s still not a word that a peasant would have used in medieval times.”

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How not to write a speech

Disclaimer: In this post, I use a real speech as an example of how to write a better speech. If you were at the wedding and heard the speech I’m referring to, you know that it was a beautiful wedding, for a beautiful couple, and that I intend no personal offense to the speech writer or anyone else involved.

I did two subjects in uni that were all about speech writing and persuasive speaking for different purposes. I did well, so I’d happily say that it’s taught me how to structure a basic speech to make an effective effort, at least, to persuade my listeners to my point of view.

Image source: Corey Ann, "How to give a best man speech"

Image source: Corey Ann, “How to give a best man speech”

Then I went to a wedding recently, and I learnt how not to write a speech.

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What does an editor do?

View my rates for editing, copywriting, or proofreading, on my Freelance Services page!

View my rates for editing, copywriting, or proofreading, on my Freelance Services page!

People often ask me what the difference between proofreading and editing is, or why editing is not just called rewriting.

Some of my pointers here are drawn from what IPEd (the Institute of Professional Editors Limited, Australia’s national editing association) says to authors about how to tell your editor what you need, but most of it is drawn from this year’s experience running my own freelance business as an editor / proofreader (TJ Withers-Ryan).

Step 1: There are three types of “editing”:

1. Proofreading – spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Have you any words out? Are there any typos like eextra letters? Fixing formatting errors like weird italicisation.

2. Copy editing – the line-by-line level, rewriting bad sentences. Does each sentence make sense? Does the author have any *annoying* mannerisms, technical jargon, or other bumps in the road that is their writing? Includes cross-checking facts and figures mentioned. This takes longer but is still pretty straightforward.

3. Structural editing – the story as a whole. Does each chapter have a point to it? Are the characters acting in a way that is consistent with the plot and their own motivations? This takes ages.

So, first, you need to tell your editor what type of editing you need them to do.

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