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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Surbiton Writers Group Blog: Writing: What Gets You In The Mood?

The impulse to write can strike at all hours and often when you least expect it.

Inconvenient and random, writers find the muse tapping them on the shoulder when they are turning right on a busy junction, in the middle of an important conversation or are trying to concentrate on what their boss is saying at work.

The muse can be slippery and elusive.Is it possible to control the impulse and write when we tell ourselves to?

What gets you in the writing-mood?

Many writers have tricks up their sleeves to get into the zone and the Surbiton Writers are no exception.

SWG members say that they carry notebooks around with them to scribble down words, impressions and ideas while day to day life is circulating around them.

Others say that shutting themselves away in week-long writers retreats are very effective.

Some have dedicated time during the day when “it’s writing-time,” and nothing, but nothing, interrupts them.

For others, seeing an impending deadline on the horizon can force the most stubborn writer’s block to crumble into a million pieces.

Others go with the flow and hang on to their ideas until they get near a computer screen or a piece of paper and then they let them run free..!

What did each of the Surbiton Writers say about what gets them in the writing-mood

Carrie said: “For me it’s reading something that jogs and fires up my imagination and it’s really important while I’m writing that I’ve got some music on in the background too.”

Peter Wells said: “The urge to write comes to me during a walk in the morning, through observing a character in a film or transposing a mood conjured by a piece of music into a story and transporting it to a situation of my own making.

“Once that idea is generated it seems to fill out on its own: that is my experience with blog posts anyway. Writing a book is a very different story but I’ll leave to another time.”

Anu said: “Being close to nature really inspires me…. Or finding a connecting thought or piece of writing close to my subject inspires me to get on with it.”

Darren Yallop said: “I get in the mood for writing when I read or hear something juicy to write about.  Most of the time it will be something that I have alot of interest in. Especially if it is something to do with history.”

Janine Fortune said: “Sometimes, I feel the urge to write on my Iphone quickly and rapidly, rendering me unsociable and in a deep trance for fifteen to twenty minutes. A bit of dinner jazz can sometimes help the words along, but then again I have been known to knock out a story with a mindless action film being played in the background. Anything with Bruce Willis or Jason Statham has worked remarkably well.

Janine adds something all writers can identify with: “I wish I  could say there was a formula to gear up for writing, but often it’s just the product of much gnashing of teeth and glum despair as your wrangle with a blank word document and sometimes the blank document wins.”

We all recognise that situation, Janine!

Whatever tricks work for you, the muse is something we don’t want to go away.

Whether you struggle with it, have fun with it, welcome it with open arms or tell it to wait until tomorrow, it’s an essential part of the writer’s life and means we never walk alone.

Happy writing!

Copyright The Surbiton Writers Group 2016

Our next open writers circle is on Saturday 19th March.

Email: surbitonwritersgroup@gmail.com for details.

How The Surbiton Writers Group Gives Constructive Feedback To Writers

You’ve done it – the piece of writing you’ve honed and worked on has got to the point where you want some feedback. Woo hoo. Well done. Snoopy dance!

This piece of writing is your baby, you’ve crafted it and you’ve imagined it.

You’ve enjoyed it enough to think about sharing it with the Surbiton Writers Group in one of our writers circles.

Reticent about receiving feedback on your writing

But you are stalling with the next bit – thinking about what that feedback is going to be like.

Something says: “I’m not sure if I want to”, “what if they don’t like it,” or even “Nooooo. I’m not ready yet. “

So – should you be nervous of hearing about what we think and should you take our advice on board anyway..?

Evaluating writing subjectively and objectively

Writing is an art and as such, is evaluated subjectively and objectively.

The subjective experience of people’s writing is what’s personal and unique to each reader, what you think and feel while you are reading it and afterwards.

Often private and not shared, it stays in your thoughts and memory, with snippets coming back to you over time. It’s the: “I really enjoyed that book,” feeling, without necessarily explaining to yourself and others why.

The objective experience of someone’s writing is like a critique – what we do in the Surbiton Writers Group. It involves standing back from the piece of writing. This says: “I really enjoyed that book,” but you do explain why.

Here, you focus on, for instance, the way the writing was constructed throughout the entire piece, the way the dialogue was written, how it felt on an emotional level or the way the grammar and punctuation read throughout.

As we also look at writing for online publication, we talk about constructing blog posts properly, for instance.

We are also interested in author marketing, by the use of social media and sharing work, so that’s included too.

Both the subjective and objective experience of the piece of writing is used in the SWG.

What’s included in a writing critique – constructive feedback is key

People critique in different ways, but, in the Surbiton Writers Group, we focus on giving constructive feedback.

As we say on our website’s front page, constructive feedback pinpoints elements of the piece of writing in a way that is in itself positive.

It is positive because it explains if, why and where elements of the piece of writing needs more work and also where the writing was successful.

We discuss and suggest and explain this with the writer in our circle sessions.

It’s not a cold process, it’s intended to be interactive, discursive and helpful.

The objective is to give the writer feedback that they can utilise and work on. It is never, ever to make the writer feel bad, or say their work is worthless.

We critique and give feedback about the writing, not the writer.

Why critique writing anyway?

You are right – no pun intended – writers can skip this step. However the Surbiton Writers Group is interested in helping develop people’s writing to achieve their aims.

Some SWG members simply want immediate and quick feedback, full stop. However other SWG members also intend to publish their writing at a later stage by approaching publishers, submitting to competitions or pitching for writing online.

It’s best to know the strengths and weaknesses in your writing before you get to that stage.

Publishers and editors are inundated by manuscripts and submissions. Yours has to be the best it can be, before it’s seen by others.

Audience, author branding and marketing is part of that too.

Consider us your market research!

Constructive criticism guidelines – the ‘how to’ of giving feedback

That’s why we are doing it, but what do we do?

One of our members has an MA in Creative Writing, where there were weekly peer critiques about the students’ work.

She developed a useful set of criteria which is very helpful when thinking through what you want to say.

Here’s her list of what to consider. Our thanks to Alex for these:

Form, voice, theme, plot and structure and pacing, details, language and tone, style, characterisation, dialogue, setting and place.

We also consider:

Sub-editing like spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Form and format – like writing format for online or book manuscripts.

Ways of developing your audience – maximising your marketing potential to build an audience for your writing

How do you know what advice to take on board?

Although there are many different viewpoints in the writers circle we advise that if you find a piece of feedback is being repeated by group members or resonates strongly with the group members, that’s the feedback to focus on and pay attention to.

Think of it like market research. If a lot of people say the same thing, that’s something that shouldn’t be ignored.

Diversity of writers within the Surbiton Writers Group

The diversity of writing interests in the SWG is crucial to giving a breadth of feedback.

We are not only fiction-writers, we have non-fiction writers, playwrights, journalists, children’s authors, bloggers and people that like writing but aren’t currently producing anything too.

All of us have different tastes, perspectives and professional or educational backgrounds.

There are different ages and stages in life in our group also.

All of this brilliant diversity makes for really interesting, creative, well rounded constructive feedback to take away and help you successfully polish and finish your piece of work.

Happy writing!

Copyright The Surbiton Writers Group 2016

We are open to new members from all types of writing backgrounds. If you are interested in joining the Surbiton Writers Group, email us on surbitonwritersgroup@gmail.com and we’ll get back to you.

The Circle Of Write: The Surbiton Writers Group Has Launched!

surbitonwritersgroup.org.uk
L-R. Dmitry, Lisa, Alex, Darren Yallop. Founder members of the SWG.

The first ever writers’ circle of the Surbiton Writers Group met on Saturday 18th April, launching with a lively discussion about what makes interesting and good writing.

Around the table are those writing fiction, online writing, journalism, short stories, are in the business of writing, produce writing and performance, write plays, edit screenplays and are writing longer works like books.

Starting off with a practice critique from an excerpt by a published author, the mix of writing backgrounds worked well with everyone offering an opinion about what worked and what didn’t work in the chosen piece.

Not everyone agreed with eachother but that’s OK! Disagreements were not important, the objective was saying what worked and what didn’t work in the piece and what adjustments could be made.

A writers’ circle can help be helpful for writers who want to hone their work through sharing it with a critical audience.

Traditionally made up of people who write and are interested in developing writing towards publication, it can be an essential part of the writing process.

They develop a writer’s critical skills and indicate what the reader may find enjoyable or not, about your work.

Writing circles are trusted to be honest in a way that develops work rather than detracts from the confidence of the writer.

The Surbiton Writers Group is a closed writers circle – which means members have to book in to join – and meets monthly. From the next circle SWG members will have their own work critiqued by the members.

We consist of a broad group of writers from lots of different genres; including those who have taken courses, are hobby writers, write in their spare time, and / or have writing qualifications.

All are welcome, we are friendly and down to earth. The more variety of writing ‘voices’, the better.

If you are interested in joining email surbitonwritersgroup@gmail.com

© The Surbiton Writers Group 2015.

Writing Tips: Break That Creative Block – The Hat Game

blank computer screen surbiton writers group

The screen flickers back at you blankly, goading you to write something. Your fingers twitch with half formed thoughts, but nothing comes. 

All you want to do is write something, but your mind is a wasteland. You tell yourself: “write something, Goddammit!”

We’ve all been there with the dreaded creative block – the feeling you get when the flow of ideas dries up completely.

When it strikes fiction or creative writers it can stall progress because the words are all their own.

Non-fiction writers find the creative block can happen because they struggle with organising factual information in the right way.

But The Block can strike anyone while they are writing no matter what genre it is!

What can you do about it? 

One idea is to try The Hat Game. You don’t need a hat or a even a cat, but you can use a bowl or a table.

How to play The Hat Game:

Get 3 pieces of paper:

Paper 1 is for nouns.

Paper 2 is for verbs.

Paper 3 is for situations or settings.

Now use paper 1,2 and 3 to type out, or write down, examples of each thing.

For instance. A noun could be “table.” A verb could be “running,” and a situation or setting could be “trapped in a locked railway station.”

piles of paper surbiton writers group

Write as many examples as you like. 

When you’ve finished, cut out each example noun, verb and situation or setting so that they are on one strip of paper each.

Next step. 

Put them into piles of nouns, verbs and situations or settings.

Fold them over so you can’t see them. No peeking!

Here’s where the fun begins. 

Pick one example from each pile.

Open them up and look. Then write as much as you can using each noun, verb and situation or setting.

You can write anything you like, but you must use each example.

Doing The Hat game is a really good way of getting words to flow, when you think the river has dried up. 

It distracts the mind from The Block and frees up your creative juices to flow again.

Having fun is essential when you are writing – your readers sense it when words are dry and forced.

The Hat Game is great for reinstating that creative flow!

Let us know what tips you have for breaking The Block too!

© The Surbiton Writers Group 2015.

Contact: surbitonwritersgroup@gmail.com