Saturday, August 20, 2011

What! I have to meet your eyes when I crit your piece?

I joined a local writers’ group! A physical, face-to-face group, not another online one. I plan to stay active on Critique Circle, because I get some good feedback and I enjoy that particular online community. But let me say a few words about the value of live interaction.

Those of you born into the electronic age, for whom social networks have become the main way of keeping in touch, allow me to say that you’re missing out. When all you have is text, you don’t get facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice. It’s the reason that some innocent posts are misinterpreted and start a flame war. When you have to look somebody in the eyes and say what you think of their writing—that very personal part of themselves—it’s different than hiding behind your laptop.

No more grimacing and eye rolling but then saying, “I loved your piece”. Of course not everybody is going to be totally honest in this context, but then humans are like that. I just think the interaction encourages a sense of togetherness and empathy that you don’t feel when texting and posting.

This local group meets in a coffee house. The ambiance, for me, is similar to that of an old, beautiful library. We sit around a real wooden table with our favorite drinks, maybe a snack, and dig into some writing. We’re surrounded by beautiful wall art, classy light fixtures, windows looking out at a busy intersection. Last time, we critted a short poem, and some members said they thought the single punctuation—a period at the end of the last line—should be deleted, and others said they thought it could stay but commas could be added elsewhere. Someone said that the lone period seemed to enhance the poem’s feeling of alone-ness. We looked to the author for clarification, and he shrugged and said “It’s just a period.”

How cool is it that one period can cause so many different opinions? Writing is so wonderful because the same thing can have as many meanings as there are readers. Sculpture, music, painting, and other forms are the same way. Art truly lifts us above the mundane.

I’m not sure that interaction would’ve happened the same way online. Face-to-face, you get lightning conversation. When everybody is respectful, you see a lot of light bulbs go off, one after the other and sometimes all at once. Trust me, it’s faster than texting.

I kind of laugh at myself, because in general, I don’t prefer groups. I’m waaay more confident when I don’t have to meet somebody’s eyes. But here, among people who share my most basic urge, I’m settling in faster than I would in other places.

Anybody who hasn’t tried being in a writers’ group, do a Google search and see if you can’t find one. You may decide it’s not for you after you go to some meetings. That’s fine. There is, of course, no set-in-stone way to get crits and improve your writing. This is, however, a time-honored way to bounce your ideas off people who share your love of words.

Keep your Facebook account, keep posting in your online crit group, but find some room in your life for live action. The nitty-gritty part of writing does happen alone; even if you do it in a crowded room, you’re the only one in your own head with your characters. I feel I write best when totally alone. Finding what doesn’t work often requires other eyes and that’s where crit groups are invaluable. I love seeing that spark of “I really get what you’re saying!” there on somebody’s face.

I do have one caveat for my comment on art and the mundane. The crazy conglomeration of life-size canoes in front of a local art museum just makes me scratch my head. Oh, and the weird yellow-orange thing that looks for all the world like a giant cheese curl? I much prefer the statue of David.


  1. I used meet-up to find a local critique group. The first meeting (for me) is next Monday.

    I had found one other local group, but it just didn't feel right to me. I think that is my biggest draw to the online group. There are *SO* many people, you can get in with a group that works well. Real life groups (at least where I live) that only draw in 5 or 10 people to a meeting could all end up hating your genre.

    Nonetheless, I am still excited to try it out and see how it goes. I'll let you know!


  2. Awesome, Joe! That is great news. Yeah, I think live groups are a bit more risky, but the rewards can be worth it. I'm anxious to know how your meeting went :)