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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 November 11, 2019

    How to Improve Memory and Boost Your Brainpower

    How to Improve Memory and Boost Your Brainpower

    Have you ever noticed that some people are able to effortlessly remember even the most mundane details and quickly comprehend new things? Well, you can too!

    To unlock the full potential of your brain, you need to keep it active and acute. Wasting time on your couch watching mindless television shows or scrolling through facebook is not going to help.

    Besides getting out flashcards, what can you do to help remember things better and learn new things more quickly? Check out these 10 effective ways on how to improve memory:

    1. Exercise and Get Your Body Moving

    Exercising doesn’t just exercise the body, it also helps to exercise your brain. Obesity and the myriad of diseases that eventually set in as a result of being overweight can cause serious harm to the brain.

    Furthermore, without regular exercise, plaque starts to build up in your arteries, and your blood vessels begin to lose the ability to effectively pump blood. Plaque buildup leads to heart attacks and it also reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients that your blood carries to your brain. When the nutrients don’t make it there, the brain’s ability to function is compromised.

    To prevent this from happening, make sure you get moving every day. Even if it’s just a brisk walk, it’ll help you maintain and increase your mental acuity. Brisk walking, swimming and dancing are all excellent activities. Take a look at these 5 Ways to Find Time for Exercise.

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    2. Eliminate Stressors and Seek Help If You’re Depressed

    Anything that causes you major stress, like anger or anxiety, will in time begin to eat away the parts of your brain that are responsible for memory. Amongst the most brain-damaging stressors is depression, which is actually often misdiagnosed a a memory problem since one of its primary symptoms is the inability to concentrate.

    If you can’t concentrate, then you might feel like you are constantly forgetting things. Depression increases the levels of cortisol in your bloodstream which elevates the cortisol levels in the brain. Doctors have found that increased cortisol diminishes certain areas of the brain, especially the hippocampus which is where short-term memories are stored.

    Prolonged depression can thus destroy your brain’s ability to remember anything new. Seek professional help to combat your depression – your brain will thank you.

    3. Get a Good Night’s Sleep and Take Naps

    Getting a consistent 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night will increase your memory. During sleep, the brain firms up memories of recently acquired information.

    Getting enough sleep will help you get through the full spectrum of nocturnal cycles that are essential to optimal brain and body functioning during the waking hours. Taking a nap throughout the day, especially after learning something new, can also help you to retain those memories as well as recharge your brain and keep it sharper longer.

    4. Feed Your Brain

    Fifty to sixty percent of the brain’s overall weight is pure fat, which is used to insulate its billions of nerve cells. The better insulated a cell is, the faster it can send messages and the quicker you will be thinking.

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    This is precisely why parents are advised to feed their young children whole milk and to restrict dieting – their brains’ need fat to grow and work properly. Skimping on fats can be devastating even to the adult brain.

    Thus, eating foods that contain a healthy mix of fats is vital for long-term memory. Some excellent food choices include fish (especially anchovies, mackerel and wild salmon) and dark leafy green vegetables. Here’re more brain food choices: 12 Foods that Can Improve Your Brain Power

    Deep-fried foods obviously contain fat but their lack of nutritional value is not going to help your brain or your body, so think healthy foods and fats.

    5. Eat Breakfast and Make Sure It Includes an Egg

    According to Larry McCleary, M.D., author of  The Brain Trust Program, an egg is the ideal breakfast. Eggs contain B vitamins which help nerve cells to burn glucose, antioxidants that protect neurons against damage; and omega-3 fatty acids that keep nerve cells firing at optimal speed.

    Other foods to add to your breakfast include fruits, veggies and lean proteins. Avoid trans fats and high fructose corn syrup. Trans fats diminish the brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other and HFCS can actually shrink the brain by damaging cells.

    Having a healthy breakfast in the morning has been shown to improve performance throughout the day. If you’re too busy to have a healthy breakfast, this maybe just right for you: 33 Quick And Healthy Breakfasts For Busy Mornings

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    6. Write it Down

    If there’s something you want to remember, writing it down can help.

    It may sound like a no-brainer, but do you really know why? Writing it down creates oxygenated blood flow to areas of your brain that a responsible for your memories and literally exercises those parts of it. Here’s How Writing Things Down Can Change Your Life.

    You can start a journal, write yourself emails or even start keeping a blog – all of these activities will help to improve your capacity to remember and memorize information.

    7. Listen to Music

    Research shows that certain types of music are very helpful in recalling memories. Information that is learned while listening to a particular song or collection can often be recalled by thinking of the song or “playing” it mentally. Songs and music can serve as cues for pulling up particular memories.

    8. Visual Concepts

    In order to remember things, many people need to visualize the information they are studying.

    Pay attention to photographers, charts and other graphics that might appear in your textbook; or if you’re not studying a book, try to pull up a mental image of what it is you are trying to remember. It might also help to draw your own charts or figures, or utilize colors and highlighters to group related ideas in your notes.

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    Here, you can learn How to Become a Person Who Can Visualize Results.

    9. Teach Someone Else

    Reading material out loud has been shown to significantly improve memory of the material. Expanding further upon this idea is the fact that psychologists and educators have found that by having students teach new concepts to others, it helps to enhance understanding and recall.

    Teach new concepts and information to a friend or study partner, and you’ll find you remember the information a lot better.

    10. Do Crossword Puzzles, Read or Play Cards

    Studies have shown that doing crossword puzzles, read or play cards on a daily basis not only keep your brain active but also help to delay memory loss, especially in those who develop dementia.

    So pick up the daily newspaper and work on that crossword puzzle, read a book or enjoy a game of solitaire.

    Pick one to two of these tips first and start applying them to your everyday life. Very soon you’ll find yourself having better memories and a clearer head!

    More About Boosting Memory

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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