Writing is often a solitary activity, well suited to introverts. We thrive in a sort of solitude where we rarely feel alone, thanks to the people or creatures, historical or imagined, who fill our stories and books. But several essential writerly activities require us to interact with contemporary, fellow humans in challenging ways. Three of these happen over and over again at the twice-monthly meetings of a local critique group, Good AF Writers. (AF is for American Fork, Utah. What were you thinking?)
Different critique groups operate in different ways, but most have three nerve-wracking activities in common:
Last time, I told you about Good AF Writers, the critique group held twice a month by the American Fork chapter of the League of Utah Writers. (I’m assuming the AF is for American Fork.) It’s every second and fourth TuesdayThursday at 6:00 p.m. at the American Fork Library, and you can read more of the basics in that previous post. There’s also a Facebook group to watch for new, updates, and more.
Here I’ll give you a better taste of how it works, in case you’re on the fence about whether it will work for you.
Our meetings consist mostly of three activities: reading (aloud), giving critiques, and receiving critiques. Each of these could make someone squirm, I know, but it’s the price of improving as writers. We try to be kind, helpful, and candid.
How It Works: Reading
Some or all of the writers in the meeting will read excerpts from something they’re writing, or the whole thing, if it’s very short. They may or may not preface their reading with a brief explanation of the work, of what has happened previously, or what sorts of help they especially want. It’s all on a clock; unless the meeting is especially crowded or we’re running late, each reader gets up to seven minutes for the reading itself and any introductory explanations.
In the meetings I’ve attended, I’ve read from three short stories (one written that day on the train, because an idea struck), the first and second chapters of a novel I’m polishing, and an essay I drafted a couple of years ago and have revisited a couple of times, but which really isn’t working yet.
After each reading, the author circulates a signup sheet. Anyone who wants to read more and provide a critique at the next meeting will sign up. Sometimes two people sign up; sometimes it’s six or seven.
After the meeting the author sends out the piece – up to 2,500 words – by e-mail, at least a week in advance of the next meeting, so everyone who signed up has time to read, reread, and critique it.
American Fork’s chapter of the League of Utah Writers (LUW) meets twice monthly, on the second and fourth Tuesdays Thursday of the month, at 6:00 p.m. We usually meet in the American Fork Library, in the smaller of the two conference rooms near the east entrance, but check the Good AF Writers Facebook group for current information. The chapter itself is just a few months old, and new members are always welcome.
There’s a Facebook group, Good AF Writers. Take the name as a fact or an aspiration, as you choose.
I’m told that different LUW chapters run their meetings differently. In our meetings, those who bring writing for critique read from it aloud for several minutes, then circulate a sign-up sheet. Anyone who wants to read more and provide an oral and written critique at the next meeting supplies a name and an e-mail address. The author sends out the piece, usually in a Word doc, at least a week before the next meeting. We limit the length of that to about 2,500 words – lately down from 5,000 words – to reduce the workload for critics. (You can always bring in the next chunk next time.)
We who signed up as critics then read and reread your piece, offer a brief oral critique (generally not more than several minutes) at the next meeting – assuming you’re there – then send the Word doc back to you with any markup and comments we may have added. Sometimes you get a lot, sometimes you get a little.