More Than A Critique Group: Developing the Craft of Writing Together

Monday, April 2, 2012


     When one of my critique buddies suggested we study Ursula LeGuin’s book, Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or Mutinous Crew, I was not happy. I felt every bit a part of the mutinous crew. Critique sessions, in my opinion, were for feedback on our developing stories. I didn’t want to muddy up our time together talking about a book none of us had time to read much less do assignments. Fortunately, I was out-voted.  Reluctantly, I purchased a book, read the first lesson and did the end of the chapter assignment.  In this manner our group began to plow through the lessons, one at a time, every other critique session. 

     On lesson day, we each brought our own interpretation of the assignment to the group and shared what we had written. Sometimes we responded using sentences and quotes from stories we were developing and sometimes our responses were fresh and new. But, most importantly, as we began to learn from LeGuin’s marvelous book, our writing began to grow, collectively and individually. We could see it in all of our manuscripts. It was exciting.

     By the time LeGuin’s book ran out of chapters to stimulate us, we had found our next project, this time a 24-session course titled, Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer’s Craft, taught by the esteemed Dr. Brooks Landon, Professor of English, Collegiate Fellow, and Director of the General Education Literature Program from the University of Iowa. No, we’re not heading to Iowa City to take the course; we take it in our own homes in front of our own televisions at our leisure, one lesson at a time.  We found the course on www.greatcourses.com, a company that offers in-depth study via CD-ROM or DVD on a wide variety of topics taught by noted professors. We each committed $39.95 and ordered collectively to save money. The company offers a complete money back guarantee so we figured we had nothing to lose.

     Now you might think that 24-classes on sentence building would be boring but we’re not finding it so. This is not about grammar and punctuation. It’s about dissecting and developing sentences that pull the reader in and move a story forward; everything you need to know to write a great story. We’re only on lesson 6 and already we’re seeing a big difference in our writing.

     I shared Ursula LeGuin’s book and Dr. Landon’s course not to promote the sale of these two products but to share the idea that developing the craft of writing doesn’t have to be expensive or a lonely, isolated venture.  Get your critique group involved. Surprisingly, the very act of studying together elevated the tone of our already awesome critique group to one of serious professionalism, moving us forward, confident that our growth, now clearly visible in each of our writing, will someday soon be rewarded with book contracts.

What does your critique group do to help its members develop the craft of writing? 

1 comments:

Gretchen said...

I am fortunate to be a member of this critique group with Sandra, SOUP as we call ourselves. This approach has made a difference in our personal writing, true, but also in our ability to help each other with the work-in-progress we each bring to the table, to recognize strengths, and to suggest changes.

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Hi! I’m Sandra Warren, a writer with very eclectic writing tastes. I’ve been fortunate to have publications in multiple genres including children’s, gifted education, parenting, how to, poetry, journal, educational activity guides and biography as well as audio and video production. I'm a city gal recently transplanted to the mountains of NC where glorious mountain vistas inspire latest renderings.

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