Tags: writing partner

Critique Group Speed Dating

by Amber Keyser
Published on: August 9, 2012
Categories: Critique Process
Comments: 5 Comments

On this blog, we Scrivas love to talk about effective group process and good critique, but I fear we may gloss over the hardest part of critique groups: FINDING ONE!  I know I had several botched attempts before finding the Scrivas.  It’s very difficult to assess compatibility of potential critique partners.  You’ve got to get into the process a little before you have any sense of whether it will work or not.

And that’s kind of like jumping into the sack with someone you’ve just met.  Could be fun. Or it could be an epic disaster.  Is there a way to streamline the process?

Well, I’ve been tossing around the idea of critique group speed dating for a while.

In looking for a critique partner, you want to find someone whose writing you respect.  That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, but it’s got potential that you can get behind.  You also want someone that you get along with on a personal level. Ideally, this is also someone who offers productive critique.


Here’s one idea for how it could work:

  1. Each participant brings in one page of their writing with enough copies for all participants.
  2. Two people sit down at a table and talk about their writing goals, creative process, and projects (NOT about the first pages).
  3. If you like the person, set their writing aside to check out later.
  4. After five minutes, switch partners.
  5. By the end of the evening, you’ll have identified a handful of people that you think are pretty cool.
  6. Go home and read the first pages.
  7. Select the people that you think would be a good match based on personality AND/OR writing.
  8. Pass your selections onto the event organizer and see if you’ve made any matches.

Voila!  A critique group is born!

What do you think?  Could it work?  Would you be interested in trying?

Skiing and Writing: Parallel Tracks

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: March 16, 2012
Comments: Comments Off on Skiing and Writing: Parallel Tracks

“Don’t laugh,” I told Steve. A couple of years before, he’d rented me my first pair of skis. The spring of 2008, I had big news to tell him. “I’m a ski instructor at Meadows!”

And that, dear readers, is my full disclosure. I teach skiing part time at Meadows Ski Resort to support my skiing habit.

Now, as it snows and snows up the mountain, Meadows’ spring pass just went on sale, and happy bluebird days are ahead, I present some thoughts about skiing. Skiing and writing. Parallel tracks.

I liked my first turns on the bunny hill, carrying poles across my arms like a tray. Because I talked big, the afternoon of my first day my instructor took us to harder green runs than the next-step Buttercup. I had spectacular spills on what felt like canyon walls, yet was game for more. I loved it already.

I now drop into bowls, have made friends with bumps, and prefer visibility while skiing but know it’s not essential. I love skiing almost any way.

Journaling? Great.

Writing poetry, maybe more to understand and express feelings than to create art? Wonderful.

Letters to friends with felicitously-turned phrases? Very good.

Picture book sketches? Scenes for multiple novels-in-progress? First draft of the one you decide to stick with? BEAUTIFUL.

I took lessons from the first, then practiced, focusing on one improvement or another.

I continue to practice. You know… Gradually initiating turns. Completing them properly. Being balanced over my skis. Not dropping my hands.

And I learn from other instructors, both skiing with them and participating in clinics with instructors so good they teach other instructors. I love knowing that when the best skiers on our mountain go catch some turns, even they still talk about what they can do better.

Write, write, and write some more.
Let your writing sit, look at it again, and revise.
Read about writing.
Go to conferences.
Repeat. : )

I now know about my anterior tibialis, the muscle that should be firing for proper shin contact with boots. (Thank you, Rick Lyons! When I grow up, I am going to ski like you.) As an instructor, you learn to analyze someone’s movements. You learn how to break down and explain the mechanics involved in improving one’s skiing. And you show it all. Talking and demonstrating, you yourself learn.

I write instinctively, drawing from the knowledge of writing and story imbuing me from my lifelong love affair with books. Yet, designing my “Shaping a Story” school visit presentation, I took time to think analytically and isolate the building blocks of story. I extracted for others and for myself, and have ready for constant review, the basics we use without thinking but overlook at our peril.

Invited for a three-day visit as Poet-in-Residence at an area school, I verbalized for myself and others why in fact we need seemingly unessential poetry. That is an important affirmation I wouldn’t have arrived at if I hadn’t needed to articulate it for others.

Look for opportunities to teach others. It will stretch you and you will learn more about what you know.

In early days, I went up to the mountain more or less alone. So, apart from lessons, I skied solo. I so loved to ski, I didn’t care. Not too much, anyway.

It’s more fun now, with friends. To talk with on the lift. To wait when you have a spill. To praise your turn shape, or point out adjustments that will improve your skiing. And then, to fly down the mountain with.

So too with writing. Writing is ultimately solitary, but it doesn’t have to be lonely. Even as we go about our individual lives, I am warmed by the presence of the Scrivas out there.

Have a writing date with a writer buddy. Form a critique group. Have writing days together, or even retreats (learn from ours). Join a writers’ list-serv, and meet others at conferences. Then stay in touch with like-minded friends.

Once comfortable on groomed runs, it’s fun to go off piste. To learn of runs without posted names, like the Tunnel of Love and Crybaby. (Hi, Sasha! : )

To ski through the trees (though, hugely important, avoid tree wells! and ski with a friend). To catch air in the parks.

The whole mountain is yours: Explore it. Learn it. Love it.

So too in writing. There are different genres, or age levels to write for. That’s one of the things I love about our critique group: though we all write for young readers, we write everything. Not just picture books, or novels. Not just fiction, or non-fiction. Graphic novels, books about how to write… Everything.

The other week, not needed at Meadows’ instructor line-up, I was released for the day. It was raining on the mountain, so I thought I’d go have a rare Saturday at home. But the friend I was catching a ride with, also released for the day, first wanted to take a couple of runs despite the rain. After all, he’d driven all the way up the mountain…

“Alright, I’ll join you,” I said. And we couldn’t stop skiing. We left some hours later, during which we worked on our turns at snail speed to figure out the bugs, then caught steeps for the sheer joy of it. In the meantime, the rain stopped and it turned into a bluebird day. I felt so privileged to be up there.

Often it’s hard to start writing. Then I get into the story, find flow, and don’t want to stop. It’s only hard till we get past that initial bump.

I learned to ski as an adult, after wanting to for years. It took two things for me to finally do so: moving to Portland, with great skiing close enough that it didn’t have to be a rare and expensive destination vacation. And being able to afford it.

With writing, there’s no good reasons to wait. It’s practically free: pen and paper worked for Shakespeare, Milton, and a bunch more people you ‘ve heard of, some of them still alive. A computer is nice, but that can mean your old clunker with minimal processing power or one at your local library. You can reserve it in advance for an hour.

Harder yet, like anything worthwhile in life, writing takes time. Yet if we want it badly enough (see the inspiring blog Amber recently referenced), writing time can be found. Look for it, and make a long-desired dream happen. Write.

Wondering how to pick critique partners? Great post by @sarahlapolla

by Amber Keyser
Published on: June 10, 2011
Categories: Critique Process
Comments: No Comments

Agent Sarah LaPolla at Curtis Brown, Ltd. wrote a great blog post on how to pick good beta readers aka critique partners for your work.

Our goal at Viva Scriva is to help you build a tight-knit, effective critique group that will be your foundation from first draft/first book to the profound missive you are scrawling on your deathbed in blood…

Oh, sorry, I got a little caught up there!

But… while you are building the aforementioned group of bloodwriters, finding a partner to exchange manuscripts with is a great way to begin.  See our post on that topic here.

Sarah LaPolla suggests we avoid:

The Casual Reader
First Draft Readers
Your Clone

Read the full text here.  It’s a good one!

Concrete Ways To Suss Out Potential Critique Group Members

by Amber Keyser
Published on: June 4, 2011
Comments: 3 Comments


Our readers often ask how they can find a group like ours.  In the FAQ section of this blog, we offer general suggestions for how to connect with other writers, but that is only the first step.  Once you’ve identified a list of people that all want a great critique group, how do you make it happen?

FIRST, ask questions up front to try and assess fit.

How long have you been writing?
How much time do you have for writing?
What are your writing goals?
How often would you like to meet?
How often will you have a piece to critique?
What is your writing/publishing experience?

There are all sorts of reasons we write, and there needs to be a match in terms of purpose.

I was in a group once where one woman was a visual artist who was writing to keep her creativity alive  until her kids were old enough for her to go back to oil painting.  I was trying to build a career as a professional writer.  Mismatch!

Another time I was with a group of women where everyone but me was primarily interested in writing stories for their own kids.  Again, mismatch!

Finally, I exchanged writing with one superbly, talented writer, who had a very demanding full-time job.  She and I could not keep the same pace. Mismatch!

SECOND, ask potential critique group members to participate in a book round table.  It would work like this.  I’ll use a picture book group as an example but this will work with any genre.  Ask each participant to bring in 2-4 picture books (published by strangers) and be prepared to point out what works and what does work about each one.  This is a non-threatening way to see what kind of a critique that person might give.  Plus it is a fun way to practice analyzing manuscripts.

THIRD, do a test drive manuscript exchange — a clean version of “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”  Read each other’s work.  This will enable you to assess whether you can get behind that person’s writing.  One key to Scriva mojo is that we have an immense amount of respect for the writing of the other Scrivas.  You’ll know quickly whether your potential critique partner is doing work that you can believe in.

The EXPERIENCE question.  A fit on the “experience” level is the trickiest.  The truth is that new writers benefit most from being with experienced writers.  Experienced writers tend to need each other while a group of new writers may not have the expertise to proceed effectively.  There is an obvious problem here.

What is a new writer to do?

Remember that many unpublished writers are very good writers and may be very good critiquers as well. The missing piece is knowledge about the business and professional connections.  A group of new writers can divvy up tasks and take steps to educate themselves.  (Wondering how to do this?  I’ll have to do a blog post!)  You can also invite more established, local writers to come as a guest to your critique group.  Many may be flattered by the opportunity to share their knowledge.

And you experience writing professionals out there…  consider taking a flyer on a newbie.  It just might be the best thing you ever did!



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