Welcome to Pencils NEPA. The purpose of this group is to bring together people like you who have a desire to explore and expand their writing skills. Your goal may be to get published or to write simply for personal satisfaction. Whatever your reason, becoming a skilled writer takes practice. By getting feedback from other writers (who themselves are also readers) you have given yourself a great opportunity to improve your craft and perfect your voice.
By joining this group, you are agreeing to the following expectations, rules and guidelines. They are designed to make this a positive and productive experience for everyone.
Meeting Location 1: Hawley Public Library
Meeting Dates: 1st and 3rd Wednesday
Meeting Times: 10:00 am to 12:30 pm
Meeting Location 2: The Stourbridge Project
Meeting Dates: 2nd and 4th Wednesday
Meeting Times: 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Protection of Intellectual Property:
All work shared at Pencils NEPA is the sole property of the publisher/author. No work may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the express written permission of the publisher/author. Any work distributed at the meeting shall be returned to the author by the end of the meeting, unless otherwise agreed to by the publisher/author.
- Attend on a consistent basis. While conflicts will arise from time to time, all members should make the effort attend every meeting. This creates synergy and accountability.
- Arrive on time and plan to stay for the entire meeting. The creative process works best when interruptions are kept to a minimum.
- Come prepared to share your work. All members should bring a sample of their work to each meeting. The length should be no more than 1,500 words. This is approximately 4 pages, double-spaced with one-inch margins, using 12-point font. Make sure to use page numbers and put your name and date on every page. Ideally, bring copies to pass out so that other members can makes notes for you to refer to when you get home.
- Respect each other’s time. The group leader will manage the agenda and the clock. The allocation of time for reading and critiquing will vary depending on the size of the group and any special agenda items. By working together to manage our time, everyone will be able to participate and fully benefit from the meetings.
- New members are always welcome. A new member to the group will not be asked to read or critique at their first meeting. This allows them to observe how the group functions so they can benefit from and contribute the most at their next meeting.
- Silence all mobile devices during the meeting. This meeting is truly a gift of time that we give ourselves to escape from interruption and immerse ourselves in the creative process.
- Respect privacy and confidentiality. What is said in the group stays in the group. This creates a safe environment for everyone to thrive.
- Respect the library policies and protocols. We are their guests. Every member is responsible for their conduct, language, tone of voice, and respect for private property.
- Offer support and suggestions. The strength and value of Pencils NEPA will come if each member gets what they need and expect. Feel free to reach out to the group leader at any time to express ideas, concerns, or solutions for future meetings.
Guidelines for Reading and Critiquing:
Every writer benefits from the opportunity to share their work and receive feedback from other members of the group. The spirit of giving and receiving feedback makes everyone stronger. This format works best if a few simple rules are followed.
All members are encouraged to read their own work to the group. Please supply each member with a copy of what you will be reading so they can follow along and make notes while you are sharing. While this is not a requirement, it is strongly encouraged.
- Before you begin reading, tell the group in a few words what type of feedback you are looking for relating to this specific piece. This will undoubtedly change from meeting to meeting. For example, you may want feedback on your characters, or the flow of your story. You may want feedback on whether the tone and tempo suits your ideal reader.
- Read only your written word. Do not improvise, embellish, or explain what you are reading. Good writing must stand on its own – after all when someone buys your work on Amazon or in Barnes & Noble, they won’t have you there to supplement what they read on the page.
- You may ask someone else in the group to read your work. This is often very effective for both the author and the group. Your work can be heard from an unbiased voice and you can pay more attention to your own words. This is totally optional.
- Honor your page and time limits. If your piece is long or part of a book project, prepare to read only a portion that fits within the group guidelines.
- Bring something new to read at each meeting. It is not productive for the writer (or stimulating for the other members) to repeat the same work over and over just for the sake of tweaking. However, major rewrites are worth sharing with the group. Your goal is to keep pushing yourself forward and not fall into the trap of editing the same work again and again.
- When you are finished, the group leader will manage the critique follow-up. Feel free to take notes on the feedback you receive, but don’t let notetaking get in the way of listening to what is being shared.
The single greatest value an author can receive from a writers group is feedback. There is a huge difference, however, between critique and criticism. The Pencils NEPA philosophy is that positive encouragement combined with insights and opinions for strengthening the work helps everyone in the group learn and grow and ultimately become better writers. Every member will be encouraged to offer feedback; however, no one is required to so. If you feel the work presented is something you don’t feel qualified or would prefer not to comment, then simply say “I’ll pass today” when it is your turn.
While another member is reading, you become the critique. Put your name on the copy so the author can get back to you if they have questions after the meeting. You are encouraged to mark punctuation errors, misspellings, typos, repeated words, and other issues. Common proofreading symbols to help you are:
The group leader will manage the critique feedback. Once a reading is concluded, it begins with a round of positive comments concerning the piece’s relative strengths. Think of this as “the Circle of Joy.” It is very important for writers to know what others like about their writing. Positive feedback gives writers the encouragement needed to keep writing (the writing world is lonely and can brutal at times). If writers know what they are doing well, they can continue to build on those strengths. Spreading joy is uplifting for everyone.
The second portion of the critique is spent giving some suggestions, critiques, or reactions that might make the writer’s submission stronger. Please hold off giving any suggestions until all the positive feedback is given. Each member will be asked to speak – one at a time. Make your strongest point first and respect the clock to allow for others to contribute. Do not use your time to repeat what someone else has already said – rather, build on it or offer something new.
- Say something positive about the piece. Even if a piece of writing needs a lot of work, there is always something good that can be pointed out – the nugget of a great idea, a particularly well-turned phrase, the beginnings of a good organizational structure, or a thorough understanding of the material.
- Critique the writing, not the writer. A writer’s work is very personal and it takes a lot of courage to put a piece of writing out there for others to critique. Offer honest, non-judgmental, tactful feedback. Put-downs and attacks are not tolerated. Everyone should feel safe sharing their work. Instead of saying “You aren’t very good at conclusions,” say, “This conclusion didn’t really work for me.” Then state why you didn’t think it worked.
- Be respectful of genres outside of your own. You may not particularly enjoy reading romance or crime novels, but do not let that factor into your critique. Critique the writing, not the genre.
- Speak from your own perspective. Use phrases like “My reaction to this was…” or “I found this to be…” rather than “This part of the paper is…” Acknowledge that there may be a variety of opinions about the piece of writing. You are in a writing group to help one another improve. It does not help the writer if you see problems with his/her writing but don’t mention them because you’re afraid of hurting his/her feelings. Writers would rather hear about a problem from the friendly, supportive members of his/her group.
- Be specific. Instead of just saying “The characterization needs work,” try to offer suggestions for where and how the writer can improve on the story’s character. Instead of “Your dialogue is weak,” suggest ways to strengthen it.
- Whatever you say, imagine yourself on the receiving end of the comment. If this were your work, what would be helpful to you? How would you want people to provide you with critical feedback?
- Write out key points that you want to share with the writer. You can note on the copy of their work, or make notes for yourself. This will help you remember, and provide a written record of your feedback if asked about it again. Use your copy to note spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors. Avoid pointing these out during feedback as it wastes valuable time. The exception to this is offering a substitution of word or phrase to strengthen some portion of the writing.
- Critical feedback does not rest upon subjectivity alone. “I like it” and “I don’t like it” are valid responses to a piece of writing, but tell the author what you liked or didn’t like about the piece.
- Do not insist that others adopt your style, morals, or values. Avoid the temptation to impose your writing style, morals or values onto others. The goal of the critique is to help the author be the best that he/she can be using their own unique style and voice, drawing from their own very personal ethics and life experience.
This is the third and perhaps most important element of the process of reading your work and receiving feedback from the group. For you to get the most out of Pencils NEPA, it is important to master how to receive feedback.
- Your writing group is trying to help you become a better writer. Anything the group members say about your work is designed to help you make it stronger, more readable, and more effective. These are just other people’s opinions. If you think a suggest is helpful, use it. If you feel strongly about not changing something…don’t. It’s your writing. Take all critiques into consideration, but follow your gut about what you should and should not change.
- Be quiet while you are receiving your critiques. It’s difficult to do when you want to defend your work, but you’ll get more out of it you just listen. Critique processes can easily get derailed by explaining and defending. Try not to be defensive. It’s easy to think “What do they know?” or “They just didn’t get it,” but consider this: While one reader’s response may be the result of that reader’s own misunderstanding, if several readers agree that a scene or stanza is confusing or implies something you didn’t intend, the problem probably lies with the writing and not with the readers. Once the critiques are finished, you’ll have time to make comments, ask questions, and get clarification.
- Put yourself in the critique member’s shoes. It is not uncommon to struggle when responding to someone else’s work without hurting their feelings or being ‘too nice.’ Understand that this process is sometimes hard for both the reader and the writer.
- Keep in mind that every reader is different. What one reader finds confusing another might find crystal clear. It is ultimately your writing and you will have to decide which bits of feedback to act upon and which to ignore. Remember that a critique of one piece of writing is not an indictment of you as a writer, nor is it a critique of your worth as a person. It is simply a response to words that you wrote on one occasion.
- Listen to praise with the same intensity that you listen to criticism. Often, writers can obsess over critical comments and fail to hear all the good things said about their writing. We can be our own worst critics and harshest detractors. Shut off the filter that says, “They don’t really mean that,” and accept sincere praise at face value.
- Keep track of the kinds of feedback that you receive again and again. Do readers often suggest changes in plot or imagery? Do the endings of your poems or stories usually seem to need work? Do people frequently tell you that they don’t understand words that you use? Do readers praise your clarity? Do they regularly tell you that your introductions are interesting? Are you frequently challenged to replace clichés with fresh images? Use these observations to identify patterns of problems and strengths in your writing.
- And most important – remember, you’re the author and you have the final say! As you receive critiques it is your prerogative to accept or reject any suggestions made. This is a useful tip to keep in mind when the group is pretty evenly divided on a point (which will often be the case). Don’t feel like you must change something just because someone in the group didn’t like it; but also, don’t make any overly hasty judgments about critiques you receive – sometimes they make more sense when you go back and look at them later.
Again, welcome to Pencils NEPA. Whatever your writing goals, we are here to support you!