This is my critique group. Usually, there are more people. Sometimes they’re on vacation. But always, there are T-shirts. And occasionally, there is laundry. Of all the workshops I’ve been part of in fifteen years, I love this best. I won’t try to write too cerebral a post on it, at least not for now. But here are some reasons…
1. We all know one another and care.
2. It’s a long term relationship. I feel like everyone is invested in my project and no one will let me down. In other words, no comment is off the cuff. They’ll see me through.
3. We go one section at a time, which is probably the secret ingredient.
In all the workshops I’ve been in, either we submitted one off things, like short stories, or they were manuscript workshops, in which we submitted a whole book, but again just once. This meant, I think, that no one was quite sure about someone else’s project. We tried our best, but we weren’t always confident. And if the work, or the genre, really differed from our own, then we really weren’t sure. But for the first time, my fellow workshoppers read my book week after week, and know the whole and then again return to the first chapter. This is cool. This is amazing. It’s magic.
Also, in traditional workshops, we always followed the Iowa model, in which the author sat silently while others talked. Don’t get me wrong. I loved this business of submitting a story and sitting silently. In my undergrad program, there was even one class in which the author was anonymous. It was delicious! But there is something to be said for an author being able to explain one’s project, to take more ownership in a critique and to ask questions, guide, lead. And that, I suppose, can only happen where there is a relationship, a sense of being in it together for the long haul.
And being in a cafe helps. Thank you, Black Hole.