I’m looking forward to meeting with my writing group tonight. They’re a great a group of people, the kind you dream about knowing when you need good, solid advice and constructive criticism. Some people say there’s no such thing as constructive criticism. I say there is.
According to Scott Berkun, author of Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds, the purpose of good criticism is to give the creator/writer/artist/designer/cook more perspective in making her next set of choices. I’m not talking about censure or denigration; I’m talking about approval and appreciation with some helpful questions and comments thrown in. If done correctly, Berkun says that criticism is a type of “communication with the intent of helping others do better work or understand their work better.”
That’s exactly how my group works. I never use is or was without thinking of Mindy’s reminders about the overuse of “be” words. And gerunds and adverbs? Well yes, they’re respected parts of speech, but because of Doug’s tutelage, I’m more sparing in their use. Because of Kathryn’s reminder to “show, don’t tell,” I’m trying to use more imagery in my writing. Brenda’s questions have forced me to think of my purpose in writing certain pieces, to ask myself “What is this work trying to solve?”
The group often employs the so-called positive sandwich technique, something Berkun refers to as the PNP sandwich (positive negative positive). It’s a simple technique, and the members of my group are masters at it. I can hear Martha saying, “First, I want to say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this.” Ah, sweet, the writer is thinking. And then, “I was just a little confused about this action sequence on the bottom of the second page.” Just when the writer is beginning to sink, Martha will throw out a lifeline, “But I know you can fix it.”
Tonight we’re having a business meeting. The group has grown in number, and tonight we’re going to reexamine our purpose. Is it time to develop a mission statement? Should we mix our critiques with other activities? Should the group split into clusters? Will we limit our the critiques to a time limit?
Whatever we decide, I know I’ll still be working with people who respect each others’ work enough to let us/me know what is and isn’t working and to make suggestions on how to craft something better. And there’s food involved tonight too…yum! Breaking bread and sharing ideas with like-minded people make for a great evening.