Notes from the Colony

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Critiquing group--No! Story nursery--Yes!

I made mistakes in beginning the Community Writing Program for the Writers' Colony. One was that I named the workshops Fiction and Memoir. This led people writing memoir to assume that they didn't need to take the fiction workshops. But the writing skills for fiction are needed for creative nonfiction and memoir. Additional memoir considerations are covered in Memoir workshops.

For 2013, I've straightened that out and listed the full program and the content of each workshop at

We offered the workshops on Saturday. But many Eurekans work on Saturday. In 2013, we are teaching one full series on Tuesday. Whether we do this again depends on the response. But I wanted those who can't attend Saturday to have at least one opportunity to take the full program.

We will teach through the six modules, one each month from January to June, on the third Saturday. We will offer that same workshop again on the following Tuesday.

But the biggest mistake I made was in naming the small writing groups that we spun off from the workshops. Because, speaking from experience, you can take workshops until the cows come home, but if you don't start writing on a regular basis, what good is it?

My vision was to create small writing circles of three or four to meet with me every other week to discuss their work in progress. I called these "critiquing groups," because that's what such groups are often called. I wasn't thinking very insightfully. Few signed up.

One group of four took the ball and ran with it. In another group of three, two blossomed. Six people out of the 53 people who attended at least one workshop.

So what was the problem?

I think the name "Critiquing Group" communicated a very high expectation that our students didn't think they could reach. It sounds academic. It sounds critical. And I was not fully sensitive to the sheer level of terror that sometimes accompanies the thought of putting your writing out there, often for the first time, for people to see.

Also, some of our students had experience with critiquing groups in the past and felt that they were negative or just not helpful.

And then there was the deer-in-headlights syndrome, to which I contributed. I was so determined that we would give real craft instruction, so worried that the students would not think they had gotten full value for their $45 or their all-day investment, I pushed Mike to cram as much content as possible into every day. I wanted to cover everything we learned getting our MFAs. In six Saturdays.

I'm not apologizing for that, and I will continue that approach. In fact, we are enhancing the whole series with additional material.

But what was missing was guided assistance in applying those craft tools to the student's own writing. In my mind, that was going to happen in the "critiquing groups." But I think our students thought that they needed to already be handling those craft tools well before they came to a group.

They imagined a critiquing groups as an advanced class in oil painting, and I just saw it as breaking out the crayons. I should have called it a Skill Application group.

In some cases, we threw so much into the workshops, the student was paralyzed by what he learned he didn't know. Paralyzed to the point that he couldn't begin. I am grateful to the bottom of my heart for those students who talked to me about this.

Because it was my intention that we would begin writing in the Critiquing Groups. That they would be a Writing Circle, a safe place where we could share our stories and then look at how to craft them on the page.

A Story Nursery. That's what I envisioned.

So, if you think you might have a story but need help to begin, we have a Story Nursery just for you. If you already are writing but want to get better, a Skill Application group can help you make that story publishable. Either way, a Writing Circle is waiting for you through the Community Writing Program. Contact me or 479 292-3665 to find out more. And check out the 2013 Workshop Schedule at

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