My First Live Critique

A couple weeks ago I experienced my first live critique session with the Toronto Street Writers. The Toronto Street Writers are a group of youth who get together each week and participate in workshops run by published authors. Each year the group produces a zine, and we’ve just started working on the pieces that will be in the zine. I only joined for the most recent year (the program runs October-June) and so far I’m pleased I did and wondering why it took me so long to find the group.

Today I am sharing the experience with you in the hopes that it will encourage you to go out and find your own real, living, breathing group of writers.

The Experiment

Not only was this my first live critique session, apparently it was run in a manner our program co-ordinator, Emily Pohl-Weary, had never tried before. The circle of chairs we usually sit in became five circles of chairs, each one surrounding a table with several copies of a participant’s writing. Writers who donated work to the first critique session of the year got to sit at the table where their work was posted, and everybody else was divided into five groups.

The five groups then made their way to each of the writers, stopping at each station for twenty minutes. The writer read one piece out loud, got comments from the group, then read the next and got comments from the group. Each participant got a copy of each piece of writing to mark up while standing at their station and a red pen. After marking it up, they left the piece with its writer and moved on to the next one.

This wasn’t really what I expected from my first live critique session, but it seemed to work really well.

The Process

Getting my first live critique was nerve-wracking but well worth it. The feedback I got from readers was mostly positive for both my pieces, and the readers were all gentle with my ego and my work. I managed not to get defensive or upset when people made suggestions. When I first signed up, I thought that I’d probably be even more sensitive to face-to-face critique than I am to online critique. Apparently I was wrong.

The overall feel of the workshop was great, too. It’s hard to organize a critique session with a large number of people so everyone gets the most out of it. Twenty minutes did feel awfully short to fully discuss a story or topic, but with the mini-group set up it was easier to get comments from each individual than it would be in a bigger circle. The set up also allows us to ensure that everyone gets a turn to be critiqued, since there are only so many weeks the program runs for.

The Results

Well, I don’t feel like my ego’s been bruised, I had great conversations about my work, and I’ve got a little more than a dozen copies of two pieces I wrote covered in red pen. Some people wrote all over my work, some people didn’t mark it up at all. There’s one person whose writing I’m still trying to decipher. I haven’t had a chance to edit the stories yet, but I already know the advice I got will come in useful. As an added bonus, I got to practice reading my work out loud, which is always fun.

The internet is a great place to find other writers and critique partners, but every writer should try to find a group of like-minded folks who they can meet up with and seek advice from face-to-face. Whether it is a critique group or a broader writing group, the face time is important, and you learn a lot when you sit in a room with twenty other writers and discuss craft every week for two hours.

Have you ever participated in a live critique session? How did it go?