Round the Circle We Go

Round the Circle We Go

There are many reasons I am glad I took the writing program at MacEwan. This isn’t an advert, and I won’t be going into all of them, but there’s one that comes to mind frequently of late.

One of my courses, Professional Prose (okay, maybe there’s a small plug here), was essentially a critiquing circle. It was a new course, and our group was small, but the personalities and perspectives were varied. It gave me experience working in a writing group, without the associating difficulty of having to first find a writing group.

One of the things I took away from it was the experience of listening to other people read and respond to my writing. Although, it did seem my method of doing so is not one that appeals to everyone.

The most important factor, and this became a running joke for the class, I do not respond to questions and comments. Well, that’s not entirely true. I will define a word, or clarify time frames or setting or other such things, but I will not discuss plot, character, or my intentions for the piece. My reason for this is simple: the story should convey all of these. If it doesn’t, then I have more work to do. I have found more weakness in stories by listening to what people think is going on than I ever would have been able to find by telling them at the first hesitation.

I am not there to talk about my story. I am there to listen to other people talk about my story, and to talk about theirs in turn. It may be a selfish pleasure, but having one reader ask a question and having another answer it correctly is a wonderful experience. Alternatively, having everyone read it in an unintended way is a sign I’m being unclear.

And of course, I’m a bit of a jerk; I admit it. My personal belief is a work-shopping session is a time where the story and the readers’ reactions take centre stage. Ideally, for me at least, this is done in a discussion among all of them rather than a series of individual presentations. If the writer butts in with background and intent and what happens next, the focus shifts. If I act like the controlling twerp I am and refuse to do speak up in that way, frequently my ideal situation results just out of lack of other options.

This is a big part of what I learned about writing circles, and working in a critique group. The biggest revelation as far as a philosophy for the editing process goes, however, is something I consider more of a fundamental truth.

All comments, changes, and responses are suggestions only, no matter who they come from. They are never to be accepted or rejected without due consideration. If they make the piece better, use them (though this may not always mean accepting a change as offered); if they don’t, ignore them. If they fall somewhere in the middle, always go with your personal style and what you think is best. In the end, you have to be satisfied you have told the story in the best way you can, and it has to be the one you want to tell, not the one another person in the group thinks you should tell.

Comments are closed.