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agentpaper
07-27-2010, 05:58 AM
Okay, I'm not really sure where I would ask this, so if this isn't in the right area, I apologize. Please feel free to relocate it to the appropriate place.

I'm a member of a small in-person critique group that just started in the last three months. We meet every two weeks and a few days before each meeting we send each other pages (limit of 20 pages) so that all we have to do is discuss them at the meeting.

We started with myself, a friend I met through an online crit group (L), and another friend of mine from the local RWA chapter (A). After our first couple of meetings, a published friend of L's (D) joined, as well. (With full permission from the other members) Unfortunately, A invited a friend (F) to join, too, without really letting anyone know first.

F didn't submit at the first meeting she attended, but did offer a few crits that made it appear she knew what she was doing, so it wasn't until her second meeting that we realized how bad her writing is. I'm someone who can always find something redeeming in a piece, but I just didn't even know where to start with hers. L and D felt the same way.

All in all it took me almost 4 hours to crit only 20 pages. The other writers only took me about 30 min.

So, we gave it to her, gently, but covering all the problems. She resubmitted the same two chapters this week--"revised"--and she had taken almost none of our suggestions.

The bottom line is that we just don't have time to keep this up every meeting. At both meetings where we critted hers, her piece took over an hour to go through. With school starting back, I just don't have time, and neither do L or D. I'm all for helping other writers, but F needs to spend A LOT of time learning craft before she's really ready to even address what is wrong with her work.

So, I turn to you, my beloved AWers. Does anyone have any suggestions about a nice, gentle way to tell her this? Help!

(And, yes, we will now have a stated policy of full agreement of all members before inviting any new members, and a trial period. Lesson learned. :D )

veinglory
07-27-2010, 06:33 AM
Well, one thing to do could be to critique only the most egregious issues for a reasonable period of time. Or to mark the first few examples of each kind of mistake.

The other approach would be to state the rule and make people vote her off the island to her face. But I don't see that being pleasant.

The intermediate option would be to ask the friend who invited her to uninvite her. Which is also likely to be awkward.

Personally I would go with #1. I have seen persistent writers go from OMG to FTW over time in a good group, even if they do get off to an unpromising start.

shadowwalker
07-27-2010, 06:36 AM
Sometimes the honesty in honest critiquing is hard. If she comes back again with little or no improvement, respectfully tell her that the group doesn't feel she's quite ready yet; you might have a couple books on writing to suggest, or a class nearby or online - in other words,don't just tell her she's out. Offer alternatives and let her know she's welcome back after she's had more 'experience'.

backslashbaby
07-27-2010, 06:41 AM
Maybe y'all could go by a time limit instead of a page amount. So if she only gets in-depth info on 3 pages, she may work harder to catch more things herself.

agentpaper
07-27-2010, 06:42 AM
Thank you both. What I've done is I've emailed her with a list of craft books that I've used and really thought helped me, then I let her know that, since her writing requires more work than the others, I think it would be fair for everyone if she only submit one chapter to the next session. I'm hoping to see some sort of improvement, but I and the other two writers can't keep offering suggestions to someone who doesn't want to take them. As much as I want to help her.

ETA: Backslash baby, that's a great idea! I didn't think of that. I'll bring it up with the rest of the group. THANKS!

thothguard51
07-27-2010, 07:12 AM
Never easy, even in well established groups...

My suggestion is that someone has to be the group leader or moderator, just like in on line groups, or pandemonium will set in.

This person would be responsible for moderating each session to keep the agenda on track and setting critique schedules on who is up and who is next. They would also be responsible for steering new members into the group as approached.

With most writing groups I have been a part of, you had to submit a sample of your writing before members voted you in or not. It shows the group members where your current ability is compared to theirs. Most new members were also invited to attend a few meetings to get the feel of the group and so they know how members critique each other. Even then, new members were generally on a probationary term for x number of months, or whatever.

For now, if no one is talking to "F", then no one knows if she is capable of change. The group will need to talk to A as well to explain how they are feeling, and so it is not just an individual member explaining to A how the group is feeling...

Once this is out of the way, I would then establish rules and vote on a moderator, and if no one wants the job, make it a rotating moderator. What ever happens, I do wish the group luck because I have seen a few disband because of stuff like this...


What ever happens, best of luck...

xitomatl
07-27-2010, 08:10 AM
Oh dear. I have some experience with this kind of situation, in the way that at my day job I'm the one who has to fire people sometimes, so I get the feelings that go along with your situation agentpaper; even if you know F isn't a good fit, it still really sucks to, more or less, fire them.

Question for you: does A feel the same as the rest of the members of the group? I'm assuming it's yes, but if it's a no, then definitely speak to them first. Reiterate the rules of the group (collective agreement for a new member), that sort of thing.

I would be of the mind, with the new revised rules for F, give them another week, see how it goes. Maybe they just needed to get into the feel of how it all works. Maybe just submitting a chapter (or a maximum page number) will iron out the kinks.

If that's just not working, I'd keep it simple, "thanks for coming to the group, but at this point in time, we just don't feel like you're a good fit". Short, simple, and if there's any questions you can field them from F as needed. Do it one-on-one, not in front of the group, to avoid embarrassment for F. The suggestion previously given with some helpful craft books or classes is great, because it'll let F know that even if they've been "kicked out" out of the group (which, more then likely, will hurt them to some degree) there's something they can do to improve.

If you feel comfortable, leave the option open for them to come back after they've gotten the craft down a bit better.

I sound a bit clinical with my approach, but being simple and clear is the best way to go about it.

Hope that helps a bit :).

Celia Cyanide
07-27-2010, 08:35 AM
Maybe y'all could go by a time limit instead of a page amount. So if she only gets in-depth info on 3 pages, she may work harder to catch more things herself.

You've already noted that this is a good idea, but I just wanted to reiterate this. I've been in critique groups with writers who just get really chatty when they are being critiqued, perhaps out of nervousness, but it takes up too much time. I've also been in groups where the best writers get the most time, because the group wants to spend more time talking about work that they really like. I think setting a time limit makes it fair to everyone when you've got people with different skill levels.

leahzero
07-27-2010, 08:39 AM
Just to play devil's advocate: is her critique still useful to the rest of the group, despite the quality of her own writing? It may behoove you to keep her on board, and simply set limitations to ensure that her work doesn't hog the group's time and attention. She can learn through reading and critiquing your work, too.

Susan Littlefield
07-27-2010, 09:18 AM
From the start of the critique group, we picked a group leader (me) and we established the rules. The only rule really is to submit your best work. This means to make sure your grammar and punctuation are correct, that your piece is formatted and in correct form. I would suggest you choose a group leader.

We have been looking for two new members for our critique group, as two moved on to other adventures. Anyone wanting to join is required to email us their first five pages. I was on sabbatical during for a short time, so the remaining members decided on not allowing a writer in, because his/her genre was not thriller, which is out group genre. When I returned to the group, I helped make a decision not to allow another writer in, because his/her work was not up to a professionally prepared level (in other words, poor spelling, formatting, punctuation, you name it).

In your group, it sounds like you might want to establish the rule that no one is allowed to ask anyone else to join without group agreement. I would also suggest that any new people send you a piece of their writing first so that you may screen who you want in your group.

I would say if F's problems are lack of characterization, plot, and other story structure, she may be able to learn these skills over time. However, if her spelling is poor, she uses incorrect grammar and sentence structure, and/or she does not format properly, then that might be a problem. Everybody has their strengths and weakness when it comes to writing, but submitting your best work is an absolute must.

I think it's great you gave her some reference book. However, I think honesty is the best policy. In your gut, do you feel F is not suited for the group? If so, there's nothing wrong with telling someone that and telling them why. On the other hand, if you feel it's worth giving her a chance to improve, you might want to do that. Honesty is best.

Susan Littlefield
07-27-2010, 09:20 AM
We also have a 15 page limit. Equal time is generally spent on each critique.

Miss Plum
07-27-2010, 10:54 AM
Well, one thing to do could be to critique only the most egregious issues for a reasonable period of time. Or to mark the first few examples of each kind of mistake.

I'm with this. This is what I've seen on critique blogs where writers submit queries or passages. No more or less time is spent on bad ones than good ones, even though the quality varies wildly. It's up to the writer to benefit or not.

Another suggestion for the millions of low-level mistakes is to simply stop correcting them at some number -- basic mistake #10 or whatever and you stop marking. One of my college teachers actually used to simply stop reading; if the first page of an essay had 5 basic mistakes, she'd give it back to the student for a rewrite before she'd even go on. More of my teachers should have done that!

shaldna
07-27-2010, 11:52 AM
So you want to kick her out because she's a bad writer and it takes too long to crit her work?

So.....what's a crit group for then?

Ask yourself this, how much does she contribute to the group? How much crit does she do? Maybe she's asking alot of you, but if she's giving it too then that should be considered.

Other than that, don't spend too long on her work. Give yourself a 20 minute limit. What doesn't get done, doesn't get done.

flyingtart
07-27-2010, 01:04 PM
I've never been to a real life crit group, but whenever I crit online I only read for as far as I'm interested. After all, that's what a reader would do in a bookshop. If you spot a lot of really bad mistakes on page one then concentrate on them and ignore the rest. It's totally unreasonable to expect anyone to spend four hours on something especially if they don't enjoy it.

In my experience people usually want the truth. If it's terrible you're not doing her any favours by pretending otherwise. If she is serious about wanting to improve she'll take it on board and stick with the group; if she just wants an ego stroke she'll leave. Either way your problem is solved.

I would never tell someone to leave. It will likely cause great bitterness and might put her off writing forever. The best solution is she comes to realise it for herself and you can best help that process by being completely honest.

Jodie_writes_what?
07-27-2010, 01:15 PM
I like BlackSlashBaby's idea. A time limit on hers. If she doesn't take suggestions, then 3 strikes and out rule. Also, discuss with other members, in future - approval from all and a writing sample from said invitee.

Linda Adams
07-27-2010, 02:53 PM
Will telling her help? Maybe yes, maybe no. We had one like that in my group, and he never listened to any of the critiques except for the good comments. We were all very frustrated. We didn't expect him to follow our comments--just to not keep bringing back the same problems. And you don't want to know how it was actually resolved. It was very ugly.

I'd suggest a couple of things:

1. Require members of the group as a whole to do X number of critiques before they can resubmit. That way, she has to do critiques and that may help improve her writing. This will also self-edit her if she's only there for the critiques.

2. When you do critiques of her work, focus only on two or three things. It may be that you gave her too much, and she couldn't figure out where to start.

3. If she's making grammatical mistakes, don't line edit. Point out an example of a problem and stop. She either fixes or she doesn't. If she doesn't, then the moderator needs to establish a rule about making sure basic proofreading is done before submission so everyone can focus on the writing.

waylander
07-27-2010, 03:26 PM
I'm of the view that enough beatings will improve most writers.
Point out to her that she hasn't fixed the problems, if possible show her with an example how it should be fixed, and keep telling her.

eqb
07-27-2010, 04:30 PM
You've already noted that this is a good idea, but I just wanted to reiterate this. I've been in critique groups with writers who just get really chatty when they are being critiqued, perhaps out of nervousness, but it takes up too much time. I've also been in groups where the best writers get the most time, because the group wants to spend more time talking about work that they really like. I think setting a time limit makes it fair to everyone when you've got people with different skill levels.

Thirded. Time limits are vital (imo) for face-to-face groups.

One thing that helps is to exchange material a few days before the meeting. That way, each reader can mark up the chapter with line edits or commentary, as much as they like, but in the meeting itself, they give a summary of their reactions, highlighting the most important problems and/or good parts.

DeleyanLee
07-27-2010, 04:38 PM
I've been a member and founder of several crit groups over the years and have faced this situation too many times. It really depends on the dynamics of the group and what the group wants out of meeting.

If improving your writing through critique is the main objective, then it's not just looking at what F gives you to crit, but in the value of the commentary she's giving you. Some of the best critters I've ever met couldn't write their way out of a wet paper bag, but their insights into my own writing is invaluable.

When we've had a member like this, who honestly wants to write and obviously understands writing on some good, basic level (otherwise she couldn't give worthwhile crits), we ganged up on him--in a good way.

We sat down, as a group (without him), with his latest submission and looked it over and quickly identified one of the biggest, hugest problems with his writing. In that particular case, it was his inability to write a clear sentence. When we gave him commentary on the next meeting (we met monthly, not bi-weekly), we ALL focused on this ONE problem of his. The repetative nature of the comments hit home after a meeting or two and he started working diligently on it.

Mind you, he never actually achieved any kind of publishability--at least not while I was still with the group--but he did get markedly better. And when he had a handle on that first problem, we meet as a group, sans him, again and picked another huge problem to focus our commentary on.

We did this because we valued his commentary on our stuff. Because we knew what we were critting for, it didn't take forever to do his crit, he improved and everyone was happy. It worked.

OTOH, there was another time when I had to release a member from the group and I did it very simply. I called him on the phone and said, "There's been a number of complaints about you over the last few months, and I know people have talked to you about it. I've talked to you about it. And we've decided as a group that we would appreciate it if you didn't join us anymore." When he said that he knew where the next meeting was and would be there anyway, my reply was, "Are you sure about that?" and said goodbye.

We had the meeting where he knew it would be--but he didn't show up.

Good luck with F. It's not an easy thing to do.

dirtsider
07-27-2010, 04:40 PM
I agree with the time limits. In my writing group, we generally critique 2-3 stories per session and then usually about 5-10 pages. That way we can spend time giving an indepth critique. It's currently a pretty small group so it works.

I second the question about whether or not she does a decent job on critiquing others. If she does a good job, let her stay but limit the time you work on her stories until it's obvious she improves. If not, you might have to find a gentle way to let her go. But I think being exposed to critiquing other people's work is always a good thing. One woman in my group has learned to recognize a fault in her own writing by going to several writing groups.

agentpaper
07-27-2010, 04:46 PM
Thanks for all your advice, guys. It's not really an issue of time. If it was just small mistakes, typos, misspellings, plot points, or what not I wouldn't have a problem with it. I and the other writers have that stuff all the time (we're far from perfect).

I don't even mind spending extra time with her because she's new and needs more hand-holding. That IS what a critique group is for. We've all been new and everyone starts somewhere, but this goes beyond what I think our group can help her with.

The problem is she doesn't have a handle on basic grammar, formatting, etc. Her work reads more like stage directions than a novel. We've tried twice now to show and tell her what's needed, but she just doesn't seem to be getting it. Her critiques aren't all that good either, anymore. Basically, a "this was good. I really enjoyed it" type thing. I'm not sure if she's scared to voice her opinions now, or what.

What we've decided to do as a group is give her one more chance. Let her know that she needs to bring a POLISHED piece to the next meeting. If there is improvement, we'll let her stay. If not, (i.e. she STILL won't take our advice) than I'll ask her to leave.

Otterella
07-30-2010, 12:45 AM
If that's how her work reads, maybe suggest she give screenwriting a try, and find a critique group oriented around that.

Susan Littlefield
07-30-2010, 01:04 AM
The problem is she doesn't have a handle on basic grammar, formatting, etc. Her work reads more like stage directions than a novel. We've tried twice now to show and tell her what's needed, but she just doesn't seem to be getting it. Her critiques aren't all that good either, anymore. Basically, a "this was good. I really enjoyed it" type thing. I'm not sure if she's scared to voice her opinions now, or what.

I understand completely! If one does not pay attention to proper formatting, spelling, and grammar, that makes it all the more difficult for everyone else. In fact, these were the very reasons we did not allow a potential member into our group.

happywritermom
07-30-2010, 01:44 AM
This is a horribly difficult issue, but keep in mind that you are investing your time in this group and that your time is valuable. If it were a creative writing workshop, I would say work with her. But it's not. You need to get out of the group as much as you give (or close to it). Yes, she will likely be upset/hurt/angry. Anyone would be. But if you let her down kindly, hopefully, she will someday realize that you did what you had to do.

Your plan is a good one, but stick to it. If she doesn't improve, oust her (One on one and constructively). Otherwise, you risk eventually losing the entire group. It sounds like a good group, so I don't think you want to see that happen.

kurzon
07-30-2010, 06:50 AM
If she was doing reasonably good crits on everyone else's work, I wouldn't see that it's necessary to ask her to leave. I would, however, change the way I crit her work.

I would write up a detailed list of issues with her writing, eg:

(a) Semi-colons are used this way. You are using them this way.
(b) You are using adjectives in a way which feels excessive to me. I would recommend cutting them down.
(c) etc etc

Then when critting her work, go through your checklist, tick the ones she's still doing, mention anything which you feel has improved (or grown worse), and leave it at that.

There is no value in repeatedly micro-editing work for someone whose prose standard is not high enough to count as 'passable'. But it is possible to make a statement about "given negatives" and comment on other aspects.

Since you say that she's not doing very useful crits, I would recommend still giving her that checklist, and then giving her some guidelines on what you expect out of a critique. And then telling her that if she doesn't think she'll be able to step up to the standard on both, that she shouldn't feel pressured, and should take a break and come back when she thinks she's ready.

jonaki
08-13-2010, 11:07 PM
We have the same issue with a member in our critique group. The only reason we work with him is that his critiquing is good and helps the rest of us. We have watertight rules in our group. Members get re-voted in every year anonymously. This depends on their group participation, sincerity, and commitment. You can get voted out of the group - simply because a bunch of folks don't like you. New members are voted in as well, after one trial session - to see how they write and how they critique others. Our group works great. We have strict guidelines and very stringent rules.

Celia Cyanide
08-13-2010, 11:20 PM
Weell, I think if the member's critique is good, it is valueable to keep them around, even if their writing is teh suxx.