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How to Form A Writing Roundtable

by The Procrastinating Writer on June 23, 2009

courtesy of Mike Schinkel

courtesy of Mike Schinkel

By Jennifer Blanchard
Once you’ve written something and done an edit on it, you will probably want to have someone else read it for you. But where do you find this person?

Well, you could just ask your mom or your brother or husband or sister-in-law–whoever–to read it for you. BUT, you won’t get as good of a read as you would if you give it to another writer. If it’s one thing most writers are good at, it’s critiquing others work.

A good way to get a bunch of readers is to create a writing roundtable.

Here’s how to form a roundtable:

  • Gather Interested Parties–Look in your local community or your even among your group of friends or work colleagues. You want to find other writers who are interested in reading and critiquing other people’s writing, as well as having their own read and critiqued.
  • Appoint a “Secretary”–This person would be the one who sends out reminders of what needs to be read and critiqued for the next meeting, as well as any group news or information that needs to be communicated.
  • Set an Initial Meeting–Get the group together casually (such as at Starbucks or lunch one afternoon) and discuss what everyone is writing. This will help you know who is currently writing, who has completed stuff ready for reading and who needs some motivation to write.

    At this meeting you should decide whose stuff you’re going to read first. Have that person send his/her writing out to the group as soon as possible so everyone can start reading.

  • Schedule Your Next Meeting–After everyone has a copy of the first author’s story/chapters, decide when your next meeting will be.
  • Prepare for the Meeting–In order to prepare, everyone should read the person’s writing and critique it. The group needs to decide if they’re going to offer only a verbal critique or if they will also give the writer notes.
  • Keep At It–When you have a meeting where you critique someone’s writing, make sure you choose the next person who will send writing out. Then keep on going. If no one has anything available to read, you don’t meet.

Tips to Help Make Your Roundtable More Effective:

  • Everyone needs to be committed to writing. This is important because if no one is writing, then there’s nothing to read. It’s also not a good idea for one writer to dominate the group (for example, if one writer has a novel finished and no one else is writing at all). There needs to be a balance, which comes from everyone being committed to getting writing done.
  • Write up a one-page (or more if you need) summary of your notes, thoughts and ideas and give it to the writer. Although having a discussion about the piece is helpful in improving your writing, having notes written down to refer to will allow you to enjoy the conversation without having to remember every single thing someone said (since they also wrote it down!).
  • Allow writers of all genres–even non-fiction (every writer needs a reader).
  • Read/follow critiquing guidelines. Here are a couple examples: 1) How to Critique in Fiction Writing Workshops and (if you’re thick-skinned) Hardcore Critique Guidelines.

Have you ever participated in a writing roundtable before? What was your experience like?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jen June 23, 2009 at 4:56 pm

I’ve been in something like that… a college creative writing class earlier this year. Fifteen weeks of hardcore writing and critiquing… oh, and a teacher that was determined to have us writing literary greatness. Talk about intense!

I loved the experience though. It truly did wonders for my writing… if for no other reason, because I was forced to write a lot, knowing that other people would actually read it. Up until then, I had a very hard time sharing unpolished work with anyone, thinking I should wait until it was presentable. Getting past that and sharing unfinished work with other writers was incredibly helpful. I’m writing more than ever now!

So yes. Writer’s groups are wonderful. Definitely recommend it… I’d love to get plugged into a regular group now that my class is over.

2 The Procrastinating Writer June 23, 2009 at 5:03 pm

@Jen Thanks for sharing your experience. I think writing groups are a great way to be accountable for getting writing done.

Another thought I had was creating a virtual writing group (where everyone shares through e-mail, returns comments that way and discussion takes place via instant message (such as Twitter).

3 CathrynG June 24, 2009 at 1:17 pm

I participated in a weekly critique group for about a year. It was a great experience in terms of writing camaraderie and a huge help in moving my novel forward.

The group was well-structured – everyone was committed, submitted their work according to schedule and provided summarized written feedback as well as margin notations for writing that stood out ( just a few check marks to indicate, hey, great passage, etc.)

The only difficulty, and maybe you can blog about this, was that I wasn’t well-prepared for incorporating conflicting feedback. I was de-railed for about 4-5 months in re-writing my novel as I tried to figure out what comments resonated with my vision and which ones I should toss out. Most of the group were very good writers, so I didn’t want to dismiss comments too casually.

4 Susan Johnston June 24, 2009 at 8:28 pm

I joined a writing critique group in college, and I’ve led writing critiques as part of the classes I teach. I agree with all of these tips except for the part about including writers of all genres. I understand that many writers span genres and that exposure to other writers and genres can be helpful.

However, I’ve observed the frustration when, for instance, a poet asks a journalist to critique her writing. The journalist may be at the top of her field and still not have the foggiest idea why the poem does or doesn’t work! The poor poet has spent hours honing her use of metaphor and the journalist is focused on real, concrete details (although she might borrow storytelling devices from fiction). All writing does not follow the same conventions or use the same devices, so it can feel almost like speaking a different language.

5 The Procrastinating Writer June 25, 2009 at 1:14 pm

@CathrynG What a great idea!! Tune in June 30 for a blog post on dealing with conflicting comments in a critique

@Susan Johnston I agree. It is difficult to critique something from another genre, especially when it’s one you have no idea about. I think the trick for roundtables is to find people who write similarly (such as a fiction roundtable group or a non-fiction roundtable group).

I was once part of a roundtable group at work. Most people wrote fiction, but since we were all non-fiction editors my career, we allowed non-fiction writing as well.

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