Showing posts with label Critique Groups. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Critique Groups. Show all posts

Friday, April 29, 2011

Writer's Groups and Critique Workshops: What's in it for the Critiquer?

Aside from the obvious, "Because I get MY story critiqued," what exactly do the writers giving critique get out of a critique session?

While eating Mexican food at The Farmers Market other day pre-interviewing a potential writing workshop leader, we were talking about our approaches to our workshops and she said to me, "Well, that's the point of the writing workshop, to get to the point where you don't need it anymore and can self-critique." While I don't entirely agree with that statement, that is partly where where the value lies for the writers who are giving critique to another writer.


In the workshop (or writers group or critique group or whatever you name it) setting, when you are listening to other writers review someone's writing and point out a piece's strengths and weaknesses, you are not just sitting there biding time until it's your turn. You may not realize it, but you are learning how to improve your own writing.

For newer writers, this process is invaluable when it comes to understanding how to cohesively construct a story (structure and continuity). If it is a group like our writers groups, where all genres are welcome, reading a wide variety of genres and skill levels and listening to the feedback helps you to understand what is good and why it is good and what isn't working and why it isn't working so you can go home and apply what you've learned to your own stories or poetry. You learn why character and theme are the most important story elements, regardless of genre. You start to see how much the use of subtext adds to a description or a character, or how important it is that each scene move the story forward in some way. You begin to see the difference between a plot-driven story and a character-driven story. You will notice how another writer constructs beautiful, poetic prose, or you will notice when the writing is so ornate that it actually distracts from the story or feels out-of-sync with the character.

If you are a screenwriter, you learn how to enter and exit a scene efficiently, how to write for a totally visual medium, and how story structure works for a screenplay, which is a completely different and a mostly formulaic process and can be quite different than writing a novel or short story or even a memoir.

For more experienced writers, you gain exposure to new and interesting voices, unique prose, new story ideas. You find new ways to approach your new or existing stories. Your critique of the others' stories teaches them how to critique your stories. In a way, you are training someone to critique your stories the way you want to be critiqued. You may learn how to critique poetry even if you are an essayist. You might learn how to critique a novel if you are a screenwriter, which will come in handy when you try your hand at a novel, and you will one day. You also get the great pleasure of mentoring another writer.

The list is nearly infinite. The more you critique, the more you learn, the better writer you become, the better critiquer you become, the better the other writers become, the better the other writers become helpful critiquers. You elevate each other. Your learning process becomes their learning process.


It doesn't matter how experienced writers are, they are frequently handing their work to someone they trust to look it over. Not all artists do this. I'm pretty sure that painters don't send first draft paintings around for critique, so does that mean that we as writer/artists should be able to judge for ourselves when our 'art' is finished? If you've read in your genre and are an experienced writer, you have to have faith that you will know when your story is its best possible version. Unlike painters, we can't just walk out of the room then walk back in with a fresh pair of eyes. We have to set it down for days, if not weeks, then we have to go back and read it all over again, pretending we're reading it for the first time, which takes a while if you've just written a novel or book-length memoir. We create entire beings and all their complexities (character), their world (description, genre), their life situations (crisis / situation) and their reactions to those situations (conflict) and attempt to transfer that epic inside our heads and put it into a readers' head exactly how we have envisioned it. It is our job to get that reader to see what we see, experience what our character experiences and sometimes that requires a fresh pair of eyes, yours or someone else's who can speak your literary language.

Evaluating our own writing is sometimes like being a therapist and evaluating yourself. It's usually better to get another person's perspective, because we're often too close to look at ourselves objectively. Writers, regardless of experience level, are sometimes too close to their own work to check for inconsistencies or to know when a reader might be pulled out of the piece while wondering how the main character seemed to magically teleport from one scene to another, or when a character is doing something 'out of character'. Some writers can pull off this kind of self-critique, but most can't.

You have sole creative control over your writing. You will know what critique advice to take and what not to take. Here's a hint: if you cringe a little when you hear it, it's probably something you need to reevaluate and your ego knows it, hence the cringing. Just give the feedback some time to marinate and soften your ego's automatic reaction.

I've had writers who've written for television, writers who've sold multiple screenplays, and writers who've had multiple stories and poems published ask me to review a new story. This isn't from a lack of confidence or experience, it's from wisdom. Wise not because they chose me, but because they are seeking several different perspectives, and have the wisdom to know that sometimes even the creator doesn't have all the answers. This is the value of a writing workshop or writers group. Several different third-party reader perspectives, readers who can talk your literary language and help you improve, and by asking them for feedback, you are helping them become better writers as well.

The critique workshop, especially in a professionally moderated environment with someone who is an experienced leader and experienced in giving positive and constructive feedback is an incredible learning opportunity. It may not be a writing class or a lecture environment, but you will be more learned for the experience.

If you'd like to participate in one of our creative writing and critique workshops, check out our schedule. We run our groups throughout Los Angeles, including Hermosa Beach (scheduled), El Segundo (new workshop coming soon), Miracle Mile / Koreatown (scheduled), West LA (scheduled), and Glendale / Glassell Park. Santa Clarita critique workshop coming soon!

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Burbank, Glendale, San Fernando Valley Writers: Writing Workshop Starts May 5th

Hey all you Burbank, Glendale, San Fernando Valley Writers!  Our longest-running writers group starts on Thursday May 5th!

This writers group a combination of writing workshop and critique group.  Our groups focus on getting words on the page and creating new stories / poetry and story ideas through creative writing exercises and also provide the opportunity to bring your current stories, chapters, poetry, memoir, or essay in for critique from your fellow group members and from a qualified moderator.  This writers group is run by Sanora Bartels, co-founder.

Meet Sanora

Attending a writing workshop with Sanora is a fantastic opportunity.  She only runs four groups per year.  Sanora is known for her supportive and exceptionally astute insights into writing, voice, stories, and prose.  She can jump from giving critique on poetry to fiction to screenplay to memoir with ease and often does in her groups, which attract and welcome writers of all genres and levels.   She is about far more than just story structure, she is about helping you elevate your writing in ways you didn't even know you were capable of accomplishing.  Her writing exercises have actually turned people into poets who never thought of themselves that way.   She will point out things you didn't even know you were doing, and give you solid direction and focus for your work in a way that leaves you excited about the possibilities of your stories.  If you don't live near her, she is worth the drive.

Sanora has been running writers groups for nearly 8 years and in 2006 graduated with a Master of Professional Writing degree from University of Southern California.  She has studied with various poetry mentors, including Cathy Colman (Borrowed Dress), Ron Koertge (Making Love to Roget’s Wife), and Holly Prado (from one to the next).  At USC, she studied screenplay writing with Syd Field (Screenplay) and has since completed a full-length screenplay titled “Straying Home” which made it to the Semi Finals of NexTv’s 2010 Writing and Pitch Competition.  Her poetry has been published in Wordwrights! magazine and New Millennium Writings. Her full-length poetry manuscript is titled The Order of Things. Sanora is a teacher of Vedic Meditation and has written several pieces on Vedic philosophy and has had over 20 articles published.  You can find her meditation schedule on Sanora is a co-editor on the Meditation page of Writers Groups
Meets on Thursday, May 5th for 8 Weeks
7:30pm - 10:00pm

This creative writing workshop is convenient and easy driving distance from to Glassell Park, Glendale, Pasadena, San Fernando Valley, and Hollywood, and parking is abundant.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hermosa Beach. Pier Ave. Writers Group!

There's more to do on Pier Avenue in Hermosa Beach than partying, tanning, and rollerblading! Now there's our newest writers group! This group is the same format as all the groups we've been successfully running since 2003. Better yet, it's in a parking-friendly part of Pier Ave, at Planet Earth Eco Cafe. The group starts at 7:30pm on Wednesday, May 11th and the cafe will be closed to the public during group (the cafe closes at 5pm daily, but go there and stop in before 5pm because they have yummy drinks and vegan and vegetarian food). Part writing workshop, part critique group, part creativity booster, our groups are more than just a group of writers gathering together to review each other's work. They are professionally led by a qualified moderator so you not only benefit from peer review of your work, but you also get critique on anything you bring in from our professional group leader.

We are delighted to announce that our Pier Avenue writers group will be run by Miranda Valentine:

Miranda Valentine is an East Coast native soaking up sunny Southern California, where she lives with her husband and two rescue dogs, Bailey & Lola. She holds a Master of Professional Writing degree from the University of Southern California, where she was fortunate to learn from some of the best writers in the business, including The New Yorker staff writer Dana Goodyear, The Atlantic Monthly editor and memoirist Sandra Tsing Loh, and best selling novelist Gina Nahai. While her first love is the short story, she adores her work as a contributing writer for Bunker Hill Magazine and, and as the editor of the popular lifestyle blog Everything Sounds Better in French. She is currently working on a memoir about love, loss, and what to do when your ex’s new wife appears naked on your computer screen. It’s tentatively titled “Reboot”. Just kidding...

Writers of all skills, levels, and genres are welcome in our groups. It works for everyone whether you write poetry, memoir, literary or genre fiction, essays, or screenplays and we hire moderators for their specific ability to provide cross-genre feedback, and for their overall supportive nature.

Los Angeles Writers Group, Hermosa Beach
Date: Starts Wednesday, May 11th and meets once a week for 8 Weeks
Time: 7:30pm - 10:00pm

Fill your notebook.(tm)

Email any questions you may have to

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

West Los Angeles Writing and Critique Workshop starts Thursday!

Our West Los Angeles Writing and Critique Workshop begins on Thursday! has been running writers groups and creative writing workshops throughout the greater Los Angeles area since 2003. We hire moderators to run these groups who have years of experience giving writers feedback on their novels, screenplays, essays, children's books, short fiction stories, memoirs and even on poetry. Our moderators are chosen because they have experience working directly with creative writers and they understand how to give supportive cross-genre feedback that will leave you excited by the possibilities of your story and hungry to go home and rewrite your project, if it needs rewriting.

We also create new stories / writing in our groups through improvisational writing exercises given as writing prompts by our group moderators that are hand-picked by that moderator based on the needs of individual writers in the group to help elevate your prose, theme, dialogue, character development and much more. Because of this, no two groups are the same, which is why we have so many people who repeat group after group (plus returning writers get the returning member discount!). Our rules for the critique process have been developed over years of working in this group setting in order to keep the critique process constructive and positive.

Critique is not only good for the person receiving critique. It also benefits the critiquer. Listening to our moderators and other members give feedback on various writing styles, stories, and genres, helps those listening elevate their level of critique and their ability to critique their own stories as they write them. While our groups are not writing classes per se, and we have no lecture portion of the evening, a great deal of experiential learning, often customized for the individual group, takes place during our workshops. Even if a writer never brings in a story for feedback, they grow from a craft perspective just by listening and participating in the process.

Please visit or email for information or questions about our writers groups.