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Author Topic: How should a group be led?
Kent_A_Jones
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I'm considering leading a short story group and would like your input.

Participation limit:
1. Should the group be limited to a preset number of participants? If so, how many?

How many stories should each participant agree to critique?

2. If the group is not limited, what number of critiques should members agree to do in return for each of their own stories?

Time limits: What length of time should participants have for creating a short story?

1. Deadline for an outline or working idea? Critique of same?

2. Deadline and condition (cleanliness of copy) of first draft?

3. Deadline for return of critiques?

4. Deadline for second draft? I believe that critique is a dialog requiring more than one question and one answer. I don't think I'm good enough to process a story through only one stage of critique and have a saleable product, so I would want to lead a group (or participate in one) that is dedicated to at least two critiques per story, preferably by the same critics. I would want the same critic for continuity sake, and to allow each critic to understand how their critique has been processed by the writer.

Structure:
1. Should the group adhere to a structured critique form/template? I believe that a common template would allow the writer to readily compare critiques of exact elements of story. It might take some people out of their comfort zone to critique characterization, for instance, but if everyone in the group is required to critique characterization, then the writer would have a better reference.
Is a critique template feasible or proper?
Is there a satisfactory critique template in existence?

2. Prompting. Should the leader of a group prompt topics for stories a la a writing challenge with triggers?

3. How should the leader of a group lead?
Should the leader act as the clearing house for stories and critiques?
Should the group stitch together participation here in a Group Forum thread and then handle business via email?
How is the business of a group done?

There you have it. A few ideas and leanings, but mostly questions. I'm sure to have failed to think of a few questions, so feel free to add.

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TaleSpinner
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I would suggest that this is a good set of questions to ask at the group's opening meeting: if you lead the group to consensus on the answers, you should have the basis for a "charter" that governs the group, with the leader making sure everyone remembers what they signed up for. (as the leader you'll have no power to enforce rules beyond ejecting people, a last resort: people are, in my experience, more likely to observe rules they helped to write and to which they have signed up.

An additional question might be one concerning entry requirements: should participants be able to spell? master grammar? should they be committed to writing and demonstrate it with some stories? how many? how long? how good? who decides?
Should there be required reading about writing? - to establish a common approach and vocabulary. e,g. OSC's books on writing.

on the review process: I think it has value for reviewers as well as writers and should challenge reviewers to say why their comment might improve the reader's experience. for example to explain why an infinitive should not, in the story under review, be split. Thus the reviewer learns something useful to his or her writing and offers reviews that are hopefully more than a list of broken writerly rules.

And I think it's important for the leader to avoid becoming the clearing house and a pinch point, that could slow down the group dynamic.

My experience of group work in industry leads me to prefer groups of 7 - 12 participants: at least 7 for variety, 12 or less for manageability. That is, unless they're jazz musicians in which case all bets are off!

Hope this helps,
Pat

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TaleSpinner
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Oh and should the group focus on one genre or all? and how short is "short"?
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Smiley
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That is so true about Jazz musicians.
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extrinsic
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The questions posed are mechanically based. A dynamic group's members eagerly participate in the group's socio-cultural identity sharing. A writers group, for example, the members share to individual degrees passions for writing. What kind of writing? What's behind the motivation? Hobby writing, daydream writing, self-identification as writer, elbow rubbing with writers, even artistic jealousy are common centrifugal writer group forces: forces that push group members outward and away from the group. The ideal is centripetal forces, which strengthen shared group identity. Mutual publication success is an ideal writers group centripetal force.

Leadership of a socio-cultural group is less about the mechanical features that stipulate membership criteria and more about arranging and encouraging ready, willing, and eager participation. Such a leader is a facilitator, not an administrator or moderator.

A natal writers group "constitution" is inclusive toward membership, though inviting and appealing to a niche aesthetic. Like composition generally, a narrowed focus establishes the group's dynamic.

One common writer group aesthetic is mutual goals: say, successful publication outcomes targeted toward a defined market. Mutual efforts for mutual outcomes is the highest ideal human social interaction paradigm: codetermination. The codetermination ideal is difficult to sustain for a prolonged time.

The normative best ideal that may be sustainable is cooperation: shared efforts for shared outcomes. The real-world actual practice ideal is most often coordination: reciprocal efforts for reciprocal outcomes. Workplace labors and compensation generally is coordination. A laborer exchanges labor for a compensation share; an owner of a means of production receives trickle-up earnings from the labor base's efforts that amount to a larger compensation overall.

Next comes the undesirable social interaction species: contention, confliction, confrontation, and conflagration. A peaceful, robust civil society generally oscillates between coordination and contention with occasional cooperation, codetermination, and confliction and confrontation interactions.

Jazz musicians, any artist, for their independent improvisational expression are prone toward contention generally. Contention: competitive efforts for competitive outcomes; obviously not a community-building social interaction, rather a contest for supremacy.

A natal writers group "leader" must I expect recognize core centripetal and centrifigal forces. A facilitator, on the other hand, ought best practice emphasize centripetal forces and develop them for a comon good.

Because a large part of a writers group is socio-cultural interaction, a facilitator's struggles for at least group cooperation if not codetermination interactions require shared and mutual respect and shared and mutual successful outcomes.

A small though subtle and profound group dynamic practice is exclusivity. Not through membership limitation, through self-selected self-identification and self-association with a group's identifiable identity. Identity markers and signals shape self-selected exclusivity. An early and necessary marker is a group's label, title, name. The label should be memorable, respectable, and topically focused. Like a narrative's title, a group's label should declare the specific nature of the group. For example, Hatrack Ansible Writers Guild.

Other markers and signals of the group's identity should identify group members. Neighborhood gangs wear "colors" that are theirs alone and mark them publicly as gang members. Wearing colors is a material artifact, custom, and tradition of gangs. Likewise, a ritual set surrounds color wearing. Workplace social markers likewise distinguish members of factional groups. Power neckties, for example, display school colors and symbols. A women's makeup practice, say, dark green eyeliner that looks black to a casual observer, Apparel, jewelry, accessories, even perfumes and colognes, etc., signal and mark self-identification and self-association with groups. Ostentatious displays of wealth mark an individual and a social cohorts' prime motivator: greed.

An online writers group does not have overt physical, visual motifs from which to signal group identity. All we have are our words. User names, for example, labels again, are one of our identity markers comprised of words. A signature line which a nested writers group might use is a name, label, title, or user name and added symbols, a memorable and expressive symbol which signals nested writing group membership though has a mystique and a mysterious appeal.

e xtrnsc

One common reality world group signal ritual is a derivation of the Did you get the memo game. An episodic memo requests members wear dark sunglasses on this coming causal Friday, casual Friday already a centripetal ritual on its own. The dark sunglasses are a nested ritual. Bathrobe Monday. Brown Wednesday. Happy hour Saturday. Nine of Five o'clock p.m. Sunday shout.

Because words are all we have, similar rituals are as probably infinite as the unique ways folk express their indiviudal and group identities visually.

Did you get the memo? Please include a non sequitur in posts. The non sequitur of the day is emory board. Jazz musicians improvise emory board the musical equivalent of ontological riffs.

Non sequitur is a writing principle useful for dialogue strategies. Memo rituals' general online writing workshop topic best practice is writing principles.

Keep it fun, have a lark, a laugh. Never use centripetal rituals for centrifugal purposes: shunning, excluding, exiling. That's hateful and mean and inappropriate for Hatrack. Facilitate inclusion and eager self-selection.

[ January 12, 2015, 06:58 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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johnbrown
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Larry Correia sends his stories to his beta readers and asks two questions:

Where was it boring?

Where was it unclear?

When you think about it, this is really 90% of what matters.

My experience is that groups can be great, and groups can also kill your stories.

More here on what I think should be avoided: http://www.johndbrown.com/read-and-report-for-effect-not-rule-compliance/

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Kent_A_Jones
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Thank you johnbrown,
Your two questions present a good case for simply sticking with my two trusted readers - one professional writer and one avid reader. They answer these two questions about my work and ask one or two revealing questions of their own.

I was taught both plagues in a college workshop thirty years ago. The point was to avoid emotional discussion because it might hurt the writer's feelings. I was reprimanded for telling a writer where her story was boring. Unfortunately, both plagues have crept into my own critiques. I agree that mechanics and fixes have little value for the writer.
Thank you for the link.

Dissatisfaction with critiques on this site led me to think about starting a group in these forums. I have a problem with wanting to fix things. However, three posts of substance in five days on this thread compels me to believe that members think nothing is broken.

Thank you very much for your note and for your valuable time, Mr. Brown.
Kent

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by johnbrown:
Larry Correia sends his stories to his beta readers and asks two questions:

Where was it boring?

Where was it unclear?

...

I believe those are also known as OSC's "hope" (so what?) and "clarity" (huh?) questions from his "faith" (oh, yeah?), "hope," and "clarity" assertion that writers need to answer these three questions, at the very least, for their readers.
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extrinsic
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I'm ambivalent toward two points of the "Read and Report for Effect not Rule Compliance" essay. A "fixit" is often a best-able expression a struggling workshopper can express.

A tedious passage probably has several shortfalls that contend with strengths. A fixit guidance might offer an insight into the shortfalls and treatment horizons' strategies and tactics for a writer. Interpretation is a different matter. Difficulty seeing past the imperative grammatical mood of the "fixit," for one.

One unstated though essential workshop paradigm is a writer's creative vision is sacred. Ownership should not be usurped by imposed external creative visions of workshoppers. That hard bright line is easily crossed, however, by less than ideally able workshoppers.

Writing workshop, any art workshop, is not just for a writer's benefit, but for workshoppers' writing growth too. The practice itself of editorial oversight as much if not more beneficial to workshoppers as writers whose narratives are on the hot seat. Workshoppers have made some degree of contributory effort though; and courteous respect for the effort if not due consideration is warranted.

The other area I'm ambivalent toward is this idea prose composition "rules" carry a weight of imperative false or valid necessiity. For less-than-subtle minds, yes, rules are imperative black and white irrepressible expectations. Rules foster writing growth. Though rules they are not: principles, guidances, insights, inspirations, suggestions, considerations, options, stepping stones to lively expression they are. For every so-called rule, at least one successful publication example proves exception to the rule.

C.J. Cherryh's famous guidance "Follow no rule off a cliff," though an imperative, implies rules are made to be followed and broken. And broken. Rules -- principles, really, encompass "rules" as optional, not imperative expectations. The double bind of "followed and broken" is artistic license's reconcilliation of a cognitive dissonance. A writer who surpasses "rules" trumps expectations with surprise delights.

Like no "fixits" and no "rule infraction" anti-imperatives are to me more of the same imperatives as the fixits and rule infraction imperatives. No absolutes, save the one: no absolutes; a spectrum axis per principle instead. Survivorship bias forgets more writers struggle from their entry onto the Poet's Journey onward than reach a success precipice individual or global. And to each a privilege and a duty to navigate the rapids and slackwaters and shoals and piers and slings and arrows and principles and guidances as they will, as best they are able.

[ January 16, 2015, 04:22 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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johnbrown
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Kathleen,

Yes, exactly.

For many many years I had done the regular critique group thing. Not until I went to Scott's boot camp did I understand the power of reading and and workshopping for effect. It's freeing, clarifying, amazing. By focusing the writer and reader on these things (what really matters), suddenly all sorts of cause and effect relationships start to become evident.

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johnbrown
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Kent,

I have never found the desire to fix things a problem. I don't think you should either [Smile] I've found it incredibly helpful to think about what's working and isn't, and then think about what things might resolve an issue. I just don't share it. Or don't suggest it is THE fix.

The issue I've had is when I think my experience is THE experience. So instead of saying "the story is boring," I say, "this part bored me," always with the sincere caveat that I might not be the intended reader. There have been too many hugely popular books that I didn't enjoy for me to think my meter is THE meter.

The other issue is that very often what I want the story to be is not what the author wants it to be. So all of my fixes and advice are completely wrong because they take the author in a direction he or she doesn't want to go. This is why I think hard about what the author is trying to do.

The best situation is when I report my experience, let the author know I'm happy to brainstorm ideas, and then we brainstorm about ways to help the author do what he wants to do. Not conform it to what I think it should be.

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johnbrown
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Extrinsic,

If you're talking about principles and guidelines, then there are good words for those two things--"principles" and "guidelines."

(I know, I'm being cheeky)

Those of us with puny brains do indeed tend to see rules as, well, rules.

And if you're supposed to learn to break rules, then what good is the rule in the first place?

The idea that you're supposed to follow the rule unless you're not supposed to follow the rule just highlights the fact that these rules are really nothing more than techniques. And something else far more fundamental is driving their application.

Principles, at least, start to get you to cause and effect. And seeing cause and effect brings true insight.

I think if we were to take a vote, most writers would want to know how to create a reader experience far more than some list of rules. Knowing cause and effect, being able to recognize it in action, allows you to control your craft. Knowing rules keeps you from getting spanked by the principal.

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