Tuesday 11 September 2012

Writing Groups & Critiques


A couple of meetings ago Natasha mentioned a book called "How to Write a Damn Good Novel" by James N. Frey. Well I just finished reading it, and not only did it give me a whole lot of valuable information, but it also posed a very interesting question.

Towards the end of the book (on pgs 153-155 to be precise) Mr. Frey talks about writers' groups, and gives some very insightful comments about them. To summarize there are according to him three types of groups puff, literary & destructive. The puff group is essentially "fun to belong to". But gives an author essentially nothing but feel good information, and does nothing except puff you up until you think you're in line for a Nobel Prize - hence the name.

The literary group compares writers to the literary masters (or at least what they consider the masters). The destructive group - the only one that is worth anything according to Frey - essentially gives honest feedback. Frey says "They have plenty of fun turning your precious prose into cole slaw. This is good. It's hard to take, but you don't make steel in a hot tub; you make it in a blast furnace" (pg 154).

Now after reading this I was a little miffed as while the EWG does give honest criticism, they aren't in my experience "destructive", so I'm wondering should there be a 4th category. A couple of people in our group know of another bunch in town that are definitely destructive, and I might add seem to delight in being so. But that's another story for in person conversation where I won't get my butt sued.

So what do you folks think? I'm sure you'll all agree we aren't a puff or a literary group, but can we really be defined as a destructive group based on Frey's definition, or are we something else?




  1. Anonymous12/9/12 11:47

    My long (winded) reply:

    When I read that part, I wanted to fly to California, take him to a quiet bistro, order him some tea, hold his hand, and ask why it was his parents never loved him... :P

    My fantasies of flying first-class aside, Howard, I got a little toffee-nosed about that section, too.

    My personal opinion on destructive anything (people, groups, companies) is that it's not about you, it's about them...them pulling themselves up by tearing you down, satisfying the gaping hole where their self-esteem should be by shooting you full of bullets...I could be wrong on this theory, of course, but there you have it.

    I'm not sure about this "cruel to be kind" dysfunction that runs around disguising itself as philosophy. I believe in being firm to be kind but the two big words there are "firm" and "kind." Cruel to be kind may work, though too often, it's just cruelty for its own sake.

    Should the EWG be given a separate category? Absolutely! How about "Constructive"...maybe we can have the EWG motto be "Where the critiques are honest and firm, but we'll feed you cookies and not only give you tissue to help dry your tears but help you fix the novel."...meh, too wordy..."EWG - Cookies, Critiques, and Crackpots--er, comedy...cookies, critiques, and comedy..."

  2. Extremely well said, Natasha. I couldn't agree more.

  3. Calling 'honest feedback' destructive is odd. I wonder how he justifies that.

    I think we give honest feedback, we do it gently, but it is honest. Honest and constructive.

    I don't think being honest necessarily entails being destructive; destructive of a person's self-esteem, feelings or ambitions.

    So I don't think we're destructive, but I do think we give honest feedback. Since the group is also 'fun to belong to' we seem to be a bit 'puff' as well. Perhaps we have just transcended Mister Frey's definitions and taken the whole art of writing groups to the next level.

    I know you'd like to go to California Natasha, but maybe we should get Mr Frey up to Edmonton to see a proper writing group in action.

    We could be mean about it and invite him in February.

    1. Anonymous15/9/12 05:19

      Well played, Simon MacKintosh (what a devious mind you have. You should be a writer. :P)

      We SHOULD bring him out--get him to do a workshop AND get him to submit pages...then we'd explain that when the writing is bad, the owner of the piece must stand outside without coat or gloves and think about what they did... >:D

  4. I agree with Natasha. What I've found in this group is an anchor that allows me to fly. I've been writing for what seems like forever but most of my friends are people who I have met through other avenues and because of that they aren't partial to reading, editing, or writing very much.

    I look forward to the group, it doesn't even matter that my stories aren't the ones being looked at... I enjoy trying to help others out with what they are creating. Maybe I don't always understand it (because it's in the middle of a novel) or maybe it's not my usual area but it's always new. There is always something new to learn just by helping out or by listening to others talk about the pages you just read. Agreeing to disagree on things. A friend found the group for me and told my husband about it and I couldn't be more thankful.

    I don't know if anyone remembers what it is like to have no one to bounce ideas off of, or the see someone who thinks somewhat like you or who does the things you do.

    All I know is, even though I don't know any of you that well, the feeling I get from this group is family... not the kind that hides things from you but the kind with in-jokes, teasing, nagging, laughter... all the good stuff that makes a true family. And of course, it helps you grow... and that's what family does too.

    Constructive... makes you think of building something doesn't it? I like it.

    1. Anonymous15/9/12 05:23

      Well-said, Melodie.

      It IS an unhappy thing for a writer with no support or network. This industry is too hard and lonely to go at it, alone.

      There are few people in the world who will understand why you're losing sleep over using "sped" instead of "hurried" in your novel, who will get why your eye twitches when you see "everyday" in an article when the journalist means "every day" and who, in general, will laugh and cheer with you, and when the rejections/bad reviews come, will say, "Well, they're idiots, anyhow. Your stuff is amazing."

  5. Greetings,

    Very interesting comments from you all. I must say I agree whole heartedly with you as well. We are a different style of group, and I believe we belong in our own category.

    As Simon said we give honest feedback, that is constructive. As I alluded to there is another group in town (if they are still operating that is) that would definitely fit into the destructive category. As Natasha said " is that it's not about you, it's about them...them pulling themselves up by tearing you down, satisfying the gaping hole where their self-esteem should be by shooting you full of bullets".

  6. Anonymous20/9/12 21:35

    Wow, I missed this post.

    I concur with the "Cookies, Critiques, Crackpots Theme." Take That, James Frey!

    I LOVE you guys! {{{sniff}}}

  7. I agree with Melodie, this group is a family.


Comments are restricted to members of the blog due to the amount of spam being received.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.