Viz Comic and The Critics – Forget That, Writing Feedback Is Useful

Since Viz comic launched in 1979 it has become a staple of British life, harnessing smutty innuendo loved by the Carry On watching public, reinvented for the punk generation.

Regular readers will know The Critics, a couple who in this cartoon are delivering an excruciating and hilarious meta-commentary about Christmas.

Viz’s parody is an hommage to critique overall.

It reminds us of what we’ve heard about art, read in column inches about the latest album or film release and identify in those who ‘spout forth’ about every creative thing around them.

The Critics can deconstruct any art form including the written word.

Are there are times when critique can be positive?

When giving feedback about writing, yes there is.

In a talk hosted by Kingston University with Baroness Gail Rebuck of Penguin Random House, students of the MA in Creative Writing asked what was important to ‘get published,’ the holy grail of many.

The discussion centred on the art form of writing and ‘being good’ but it was also mentioned that in the MA programme, students are expected to do their part in promoting themselves and their work.

Author marketing, in other words

One of the early members of the Surbiton Writers Group who also holds a MA in Creative Writing said: “I’m not so good at all the promotion stuff that they expect you to do these days, I like the writing but, well, I know what I’m good at.”

They took part in our first writers circle in 2015 and at the moment all SWG members are thinking about critiquing afresh as our next feedback group is coming up.

How is feedback part of knowing the strengths of your work?

Like it or not, publishing is a business and a competitive one at that.  Even with MA’s in creative writing, those who are producing work are competing inside an industry that many thousands of writers populate.

Authors work, in the main, alone. It is just you, your imagination and your words. That makes for an isolating experience that is remote from the eye of potential readers.

Writing is a solo task 

Writers will have done a lot of thinking, creating, drafting and committing to their written ideas long before it gets to the point of deciding what they want to do with it.

Some ideas are left at the draft stage or the ‘in my head’ stage for weeks, months or years before they are ready for someone else to read them.

Some pop out more quickly and almost fully formed.

However it happens, in order to compete within the writing field it can be useful for others to read your ideas and give feedback to you.

Blind spots exist in everyone. Writers can be so wrapped up with ideas that often stumbling blocks are missed until it’s too late and they’ve run the risk of someone in the industry rejecting them.

Beta-reading for established and new authors 

Established writers seek out feedback as much as newbies.

Beta-readers are people who read drafts of work that are complete from the perspective of the writer and ready to be sent off for a competition or publication.

Beta readers are often professional writers themselves, they can command an income from their work and they know the writing business and the industry inside out.

The Surbiton Writers Group runs quarterly writers circles

We don’t offer beta-reading services but we do have a writers circle.

The writers circle, so called because we sit around a table together and discuss work, is a closed session.

In it we give detailed feedback to our members who are ready to take the next steps with their work.

Format of work 

There is a maximum word limit for any writing that is submitted for feedback. This helps people drill down and focus on having a meaningful discussion of work.

We take at least 2 hours to give verbal feedback and it’s supported by a summary written on paper for the writer to take away also.

The circle is open to members who have a skill, interest or commitment to developing others’ writing and interested in giving feedback both verbally and in writing.

Join us to find out more…

What critique isn’t

The Critics show the worst of what giving feedback can be like; pretentious, over-subjective and useless to anyone but themselves.

The SWG writers circle doesn’t do that. We focus on constructive feedback; that means feedback that the writer can really take away and use.

We pinpoint what areas work and what areas weren’t so successful for us as readers. We listen to the writer talking about their work too.

Our discussion intends to help the writer solve issues they themselves identify but also ones that a blind spot may have prevented them from seeing too.

At the end of our writers circle we hope that the writer has a clear road map as to what to do next, if one is needed.

We aren’t high falootin’ about it and don’t give feedback like The Critics.

At our writers circle people will know what their writing was like from the point of view of friendly readers – readerships are wide and varied and our group members are too!

We are like market research!

Writers circles for 2016 /2017

Our next writers circle on October 29th is already full, however we will be running more in 2017.

If you’d like to attend, contact surbitonwritersgroup@gmail.com and we’ll tell you what happens next.

There are always spaces around the table for new people who like reading and giving verbal and written feedback.

All we ask is that you devote the time to considering another person’s writing and like developing written work.

Want to join? contact surbitonwritersgroup@gmail.com.

Happy writing!

Copyright Surbiton Writers Group 2016. 

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The Surbiton Writers Group: Searching For Sugar Man to Will Self, Our Most Memorable Writing From 2015.

What’s the most memorable piece of writing you watched, read, or listened to in 2015?

The new year is a few days old and thoughts have already turned to what delights this year will offer, but the Surbiton Writers took no time at all to reveal what writing has stuck in their thinking from last year to this.

Films, books and newspaper columns all figured in our list, showing the diversity of writing out there to choose from and the enormously wide range of taste within our writers group.

What, no Star Wars!!  

Star_Wars_Episode_VII_The_Force_Awakens

We’ll give you a spoiler. Our list doesn’t include the screenplay of the long anticipated film release of the year, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Carrie said: “as a film fan,  I’d have loved to say this was the most memorable writing of 2015, after all, it was THE go-to film event of the year, but it came quite far down my list and so did Netflix’s House Of Cards Series 3, another must-see.”

Read what Carrie did choose further down the page…

Will your picks be the same as ours…

If you were at a party and someone asked you the same question, what would you say?

Each piece of writing the Surbiton Writers chose wasn’t necessarily first available last year, many being published or released long beforehand.

Regardless of whether our choices ride the curve, they show that good writing has longevity, changes one’s perspective and moves us, altering our inner, imaginative worlds for months after that first watch, listen or read.

Here’s our list. Ta daa!

Janine writes playful and imaginative picture books for the under 5s age group

Her choice was Twan Tan Eng’s ‘The Garden of Evening Mists,’ adding that what stuck with her was the “simply beautiful prose.”

Published in 2012, it was the Malaysian writer’s second novel. Telling the story of Yun Ling Teoh making sense of her experience during WW2, it was short listed for the Man Booker Prize and won the Walter Scott Prize for Historicsearching for sugarman film posteral Fiction.

Peter Wells publishes novels and writes a hugely popular blog  Counting Ducks 

He chose the film Searching For Sugar Man (warning spoilers included):

“..the most striking thing I watched was the film “Searching For Sugar Man” which, as everyone may know, tells the true story of Sixto Rodriguez who, after a period trying to make it in the music industry faded into obscurity and spent the majority of his working life in the construction industry unaware of the fact that he had achieved legendary success in South Africa.

The film tells the story of his rediscovery, and illuminates his supreme modesty and dignity in the face of his growing fame: heart warming on so many levels.”

He reminds me of another man I came across last year, Nick Drake, who took his own life at the age of twenty-six after a shortish period in the music industry were he met with very limited recognition, despair over which may have played a part in his tragic decision.”

Once again, after his death there was a slow discovery of his work which I discovered as part of the soundtrack on a Hollywood film called ” A Perfect Man” which was released in September 2015.”

If you look up the name “Nick Drake” on IMDP you will see his music has featured on many well recognised films in the following twenty years.”

In both cases, as a hopefully creative man, who speaks so much through his writing, both films inspire me with the message that the worth of what you do may not be immediately recognised, and that to persevere is a key ingredient in making your mark. “

Anu is a business journalist, who’s speciality is in change management and often refers to non-fiction writing in her articles. 

Quiet Cover By Susan Cain

She selected another non-fiction book for her memorable read: ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain.

A study of the difference between introversion and extraversion, it explains how the introverted amongst us have unique qualities which are embedded at the level of our brain chemistry.

You could argue that all writers have an introverted side, writing alone and living in a strong inner world is essential.
Accessible and fascinating, Anu described it as: “quite memorable.”

Darren is known for his witty and humorous writing style.

He chose 2 writers who have changed the writing landscape in Britain: Harold Jacobson and Will Self.

However, it was a piece about global warming that changed his attitude towards the race to save the planet.

will-self

“For me it has to be Harold Jacobson from The Saturday Independent, just love his witty style of writing.  I suppose in some ways I base my writing to his. Will Self is another brilliant writer.

As for story that I read this year. Well too many to choose from.”

But if I had to choose one. It would be learning that within 15 years all gas cookers and boilers must be fazed out.  This is supposed to help with climate change! !!!. This can only happen if we are all singing from the same sheet.”

and what did Carrie choose?

It’s not an easy choice,” she said, “but I’d have to say the most personally changing thing I read last year was an article in the Hull Daily Mail from 1931.

Having spent a year or so researching a married couple for a book I’m writing, who have sadly now long died and their family with them, this has been a far more complicated process than programmes like Who Do You Think You Are suggest it is. I’d exhausted all the obvious and not-so-obvious channels so the research had stalled completely.”

Image Courtesy Hull Daily Mail.
Image Courtesy Hull Daily Mail.

Then by accident I found an article in the Daily Mail. It was a feature about a society wedding – their wedding – and there was a beautiful black and white photo of them as well, looking straight at me from the page.”

After reading so much about them, it was the first time I’d seen them in person and I stared back into their faces wanting so much to reach out through the years and talk to them.”

It changed everything and immediately brought them to life. This article reinforced to me how important journalism is to recording events that even on a local level preserve history for generations to come.”

There are our most memorable pieces of writing – what would your choices be?

Tell us whether our list has inspired you to read or watch more.

In the meanwhile we’ve added all of these examples to our growing list of must-read’s for 2016.

If you are interested in joining the Surbiton Writers Group, email surbitonwritersgroup@gmail.com

© The Surbiton Writers Group 2016