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How to Start a Writing Critique Group

How to Start a Writing Critique Group
Lessons

    Did you say you were going to start writing that book this year? If you’re looking for a way to honor your word(s) and put your writing life in action, starting a writing critique group will catapult your accountability and get you in community with your peers. It will also sit you next to writers who have an intention to publish. At the very least it will help you develop your craft to the point of submission (no, I don’t mean groveling, it just feels that way).

    At best, critique groups are supportive, constructive, attuned to the work not personality, and usually peopled by well-read, life-educated, published, or almost-published writers. At worst, well, that’s another post.

    Before You Begin, Stop Reading Writers’ Memoirs

    Many writers feel writing groups are an admission of weakness or lack of talent. Some think they’re boring wastes of time. If you really want to be in action about your writing, you will need to stop listening to famous authors who write about hating groups. They just want to be able to smoke in public, and since that’s not altogether legal or healthy they decline invitations and make up stories about being tethered to their muse on a pirate ship in high seas with a bottle of scotch.

    How to Create a Community of Your Peers

    • If you are unsure about leading the group yourself, consider hand-picking a writer who is experienced with the process to work with you to get the group off the ground, and to keep the structure and guidelines in place over time.
    • If you can’t find what you want, generate it. Meetup.com is a great place to gather like-minded souls in your geographic area.
    • Independent bookstores, calendar listings in newspapers, community message boards and coffee shops are also good places to get the word out, post flyers, etc.

    Structure and Guidelines

    1. Define the Scope: Do you want a genre-focused group, or a general purpose fiction group? Short stories? Novels? Non-fiction?

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    2. Create a Starting Intent: Do you want to write and submit stories for publication? Or do you want to simply work on craft? Or both?

    3. Gather Your Peeps: When people call to join, take notes and get a sense of their readiness and intent. Look for diversity (age, background, preferred genres, etc.) to create a rich critique experience.

    4. Decide on Numbers: Keep the number of members limited. Four or five is a good starting place. If one person leaves the group, replace them with a new writer. Fill empty spots by invitation and agreement by the group. This will build trust, ownership and respect in your group.

    5. Establish Meetings: Find a time/day that honors writers’ lives (work, family). One evening every two weeks in the evening, or a weekend day set at an odd-but-doable time is easier to remember (1:23 p.m.). Once a month, or twice monthly is usually better than weekly as it gives writers a chance to write/edit in between meetings. Two hours is generally the right amount of time for a group of five. Any more time than that and energy starts to wane.

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    6. Determine Locations: Move meetings from house to house, or find a coffee shop or meeting space that can accommodate a group of raucous writers.

    7. Submitting Work: Create a deadline for submitting work to each other by email. If you meet every two weeks, try setting the week in between as the submission deadline to allow readers enough time to read and comment.

    8. Giving Critique: Critique the writing, not the writer. Find what works, what doesn’t. Speak as objectively as possible, as if the writer is absent. “This passage is confusing…perhaps another word here would work better…I want to know more…There is a POV shift in this section…too much use of progressive tense…passive voice, needs more thrust…your story really starts on page 4…” Upon completion, provide the writer with your edits and notes on hard copy. Give writer a moment to explain unanswered questions. Don’t wad the writer’s work into balls and toss them.

    9. Receiving Critique: Be quiet! Sit back and take notes. Let the questions and comments fly. Take it all in. Answer questions at the end, if necessary. Don’t defend or throw heavy objects.

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    10. Critique Structure: Calculate critique time based on length of meeting and numbers in the group, allowing for hellos and transitions. If your group is larger, you may want to divide up critiques every two weeks.

    11. Socializing: Beyond the very reasonable, don’t socialize too much during group time. It will eventually crumble the will of the group. Get to know each other in other ways. Sleep with them if you have to, but just keep the details out of the group.

    12. Confidentiality: Make an agreement with the whole group that you will not steal ideas, or talk about the work, except in general terms.

    13. Commitment:
    Discuss and determine as a group how you want to handle breaks, respites and waning commitments. Life happens. Sometimes people don’t show up, or arrive late or unprepared, or travel for extended periods. Ask yourselves how you want to support each other, how tight or loose you want to be with commitment to the group, etc. It’s a choice, not a make-wrong.

    14. Ghost Stories: I just put this here because I thought 13 guidelines would set off the superstitious among you.

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    Get ready for your writing life to change!

    If you’d like to add to these guidelines, please jump into the comment box. See you there.

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    Last Updated on August 13, 2020

    12 Benefits of Meditation That Improve Your Body And Mind

    12 Benefits of Meditation That Improve Your Body And Mind

    As a mediation teacher, I am constantly confronted with these two questions regarding the benefits of meditation:

    1. Why can’t I enjoy the benefits of meditation continuously?

    I ask back: Is it maybe because you see mediation as a technique, performance, or some exclusive activity? The answer is: yes!

    Or, because your mind is constantly evolving on the past negative attachments and traditional habits? After careful thinking they answer: yes, probably!

    Although meditation is very simple and challenging at the same time, in the above mentioned case, it’s not easy to benefit from meditation, especially when approached with the idea that it has to be learned, studied, or applied. Meditation is to be seen as a natural, mental cleansing process that happens on a basis of awareness on a moment-to-moment experience. When that takes place, the benefits of meditation are continuous.

    2. What is the purpose of meditation?

    The purpose of meditation is to accomplish a level of consciousness for mastering the mind and uniting with the finest, deepest, and subtlest part of yourself as a being.

    It is a conscious process of observation of the mind—helping the meditator to understand the structure of its mind and the quality of its content. During this process, countless benefits of a physical, mental, and spiritual/philosophical nature arise for the meditator.

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    Meditation as a Fixer and Benefactor

    In this article we’ll have a look at the primary and the ultimate benefits of mediation, which improve your body and mind at the same time. For the sake of clarity, readability, and tangible experience, I have separated the benefits into three groups.

    You can change just about anything you don’t like about yourself (psychologically, as well as physically) through meditation. However, this is only possible with a specific approach, when your brain allows the benefits of meditation to do their work.

    This means not to interrupt the benefit with other thoughts, but to let their effect implement itself in your body and mind. This approach is crucial.

    The following exercises will make you feel the benefits of meditation instantly, but the continuity of the benefits of meditation on your body and mind depend on the discipline of your brain, how you manage external stimuli and your thoughts.

    Less Physical, More Psychological

    Even though the practice of meditation is more psychological and less physical, the first benefit we’re going to experience is both physical as well as mental.

    This benefit happens literally immediately, right at the moment of meditation. It is the essence of mediation basically.

    The First Benefit of Meditation

    The first benefit of meditation is twofold:

    1. Improving inward attention (sharpening the mind)
    2. Relaxation of the body

    Let’s do it right now. This benefit consists of only one step, and it is very simple to perform. It goes like this:

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    Sit still and pay attention to your exhalation.

    That’s it! Technically, the whole journey into the world of mediation begins here and nowhere else. And right here, you benefit from this step in the following way:

    When you pay attention to the flow of your exhalation (gentle, deep, effortless exhalation), your body begins with the process of relaxation instantly (your heart rate slows down, your nervous system calms, and tension in your muscles is relieved).

    When the nervous system calms, your mind calms down, and, more specifically, less thoughts are produced by your mind. How, exactly? By applying one of the most valuable mental skills—attention—the mind follows the breathing and has no space and time to generate any other thoughts. Only when the attention goes off the breath, other thoughts are constructed, and the mind is accelerating with thought production again.

    Keeping the First Benefit Effective and Ongoing

    Here you apply the approach of not letting the relaxation and attention process get interrupted; rather let the effects of these benefits implant in your body and mind as deeply as possible.

    This is to say, the instant relaxation and inward attention happen at the same time when you follow the flow of your breath. Repeating this process—creating a constant rhythm out of the breathing and the attention—you create a process of meditation.

    Keep your attention on the flow of your breath and see how the calmness of body and mind begin to rule your present moment. The longer you stay connected to your breathing, the stronger you’ll feel the benefit. Start with 3-5 minutes at a time without doing anything else, and increase to 10-20 minutes and onwards.

    Can you think of a better, simpler and quicker exercise that can relax the body and improve attention in this way, at this speed?

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    This benefit takes you to the second one.

    The Second Benefit of Meditation

    While still working with the first benefit of mediation, you slowly start to see the second benefit of mediation, which is fourfold. I call it the major value of mediation:

    1. Energy (physical and mental strength)
    2. Observance
    3. Peacefulness (stillness, and space of mind for deeper observation)
    4. Patience

    Peacefulness is the source of a blissful life. The energy is the fuel to express that blissfulness. Whatever we want to accomplish in life we need: 1) Physical and mental strength, 2) Observance of that energy, 3) Peacefulness—the calmness and stillness that creates space for freedom of being and creative thinking, and 4) Patience for the process of accomplishment.

    You can only get creative in thinking and boosted with physical and mental energy when you get in touch with the deepest levels of yourself—when you harmonize your mental and physiological activities. How do you do that? Let’s try it right now:

    This step involves the observation of the two separate movements of your breath. After paying attention on your exhalation, you have prepared your body and mind to really see and feel what true peacefulness and true energy means.

    1. Energy

    Keep your attention on your inhalation (inhaling gently, deeply and lightly) and feel the new energy (new oxygen) flowing in your body. The inhalation is the symbol for aliveness and vitality. It is the the primary act that connects the baby’s body with the outside world after coming out of the womb[1]. Each inhalation is a new opportunity for your body to revive, regenerate, and renew itself.

    2. Observance

    The observance comes during the process of meditation, enabling you to see the physiological benefits of introducing new energy to your body. Use that benefit by utilizing its effects, and create deeper observation into yourself. With every single inhalation, this observation will enable you to generate even more energy, mentally and physically.

    3. Peacefulness

    Keep your attention on your exhalation, and feel how, out of the relaxation, peacefulness is spreading throughout your whole body. The exhalation is the symbol for relaxation and peacefulness. Only through meditation can you realize what absolute peacefulness means.

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    4. Patience

    The meditation delivers the previous benefits to you immediately and opens up the possibility for many other benefits and great virtues. A specific one to mention, which is essential for reaching the ultimate benefits of meditation, is patience. If you have experienced the aforementioned benefits, it means that you have invested a certain amount of patience into mastering yourself and your mind.

    The Ultimate Benefits of Meditation

    Patience is a key quality when it comes to the ultimate benefits of meditation.

    Since the mind is the tool that reveals everything, mediation is the method for the proper utility of the tool.

    The above mentioned benefits of mediation lead to the ultimate benefits of mediation—qualities that depict what makes a human being human. As you dwell in a meditative state of being, the following benefits begin to emanate:

    • Diligence: the persistence for righteous effort to reach an intrinsic value; inner strength.
    • Temperance: to express self-control and show excellence in managing the physio-biological and mental necessities
    • Courage: using righteous effort and braveness to look into the weaknesses of yourself and at the hardship of your life, endure it and patiently overcome the obstacles
    • Loving kindness and Compassion – a capacity to care, understand, and tolerate other people’s state of being, wishing them freedom from suffering.
    • Wisdom: the moment when you feel that mediation gives you the feeling and the knowledge that what you do relating to life and practical affairs is just.
    • Equanimity: that puts you in a state of composure, and you experience an ongoing blissful state of being.

    These are the 6 ultimate benefits of meditation that put your body and mind in a state of health and balance.

    Final Thoughts

    Mediation exists to put order in your mind and awaken the best of you, to reconnect you to your goodness and your inborn intelligent capabilities.

    Meditation is the window to your true Self. It gives you a panoramic view of your heart’s greatness. It shows you the true meaning of love, freeing you from the dungeons of ignorance and despair. The power of meditation dismantles the evil that’s trying to cloud the beauty of your heart.

    Your heart, body, and soul are the bridge over which the challenges of life frequently carry their heavy load. Meditation is the support of that bridge. Make use of that support.

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    Featured photo credit: Mor Shani via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Medline Plus: Changes in the newborn at birth

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