Showing posts with label Netwest critique group. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Netwest critique group. Show all posts

Thursday, September 4, 2008


Author at end of table with
his prose group.

The Value of Critique
by Richard Argo

During my school years, a few lifetimes ago, I took a program with a professor who, in discussions on the weekly papers students were required to submit, always asked if we wanted support for our efforts or critique. This professor had the reputation for reducing students’ work to compost. So I, a forty-something, unsure of my abilities and indeed my entitlement to higher education, opted for support.
The professor dispensed this support without measure. He assured me that the submitted work was of proper length, neatly typed with references correctly listed and I could expect to receive full credit.
Life was good. This college stuff was easy – at least for the first two weeks. But then I wandered if my writing was good, was I expressing myself well, and was I right in what I said.
“Ah,” the professor said with a smile when I asked the question. “Are you now asking for critique?”
I gritted my teeth, took a deep breath and said, “Yes.”
To make a semester-long story short, he reduced my work to compost – again and again and again. However, his comments were spot on. I learned and came to appreciate critique.
When I moved to the mountains and found the Netwest group, I joined. That was thirteen years ago. I don’t think I’ve missed a dozen sessions since and I would be loathe to submit a piece of work for publication that had not first passed before the critique group.
Admittedly, and this may be more information than is necessary, there are times when the group reviews my work, that bring back memories of group therapy. Especially those times when it was my turn in the barrel. But, beyond the comments and suggestions, what are far more valuable to me are the sense I get after each session that “I can do this” and the inspiration to try.
I don’t always follow every suggestion or agree with every comment, but I know that these are given by other writers who have an objective eye for what makes writing better. It is this objectivity that I rely on rather that the well-intentioned comments of non-writing friends and relatives.
Support comes from the fact that even though the group knows me to be a poor speller with a limited knowledge of writing rules, they allow me to make comments and suggestions, too. And sometimes these suggestions are good ones because it’s all about learning. When you associate with smart people, some of it is bound to rub off.
A wise person (I believe it was Nancy Simpson) once said something like: you can learn to write on your own, but it is so much faster with a group. So, if you want to improve your writing, network with and learn from other writers – get thee to a critique group. After all, good things can grow from compost.

Richard Argo lives in Murphy, NC where he writes, teaches and leads the Netwest Critique group each month on the second Thursday. He will teach at JCCFS in early 2009. Check your catalog for dates or go online.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Leave the Egos at the door

Recently while advising a member on starting a reading in her town, I said the most important thing about holding any event in an effort to further writing in the community is for the leadership to leave egos at the door. I and other members of netwest will tell anyone that the reason our groups in Murphy and Hayesville have been so successful is that we don't have room for those who are competitive with other members or our guests who come to observe and/or participate. Our members want to help each other, as well as help themselves to learn to be a better writer.

I took the position of Program Coordinator because I wanted to further the work done by Nancy Simpson in bringing such encouragement to those who want to write. I was welcomed into the poetry group in 1996 and for the first time in my life felt I had a safe place to read my work. That doesn't mean that my work was not critiqued. But we always look first for the good in each poem. We talk to the group, not to the poet who has just read. We discuss the poem, bring up things we'd like to know more about or things we feel would make the poem stronger or clearer. When we have had our say, the poet gets a chance to tell anything he wants to tell us about the poem. No one feels threatened or hurt but everyone gets the advantage of good peer advice.

The prose group is handled in the same way. When we have had a person come who does not understand our way, that person usually doesn't last long. We have no room for egos that try to overpower any one of our group. It is amazing that we meet month after month, men and womem, who love poetry and have come to love each other as dear friends. The secret is that we care about the spirits of our fellow poets. We want all our members to be successful.

Any group can have this if the members want it, and the leaders care enough to make sure it stays on tract. That is what has made our Netwest critique groups successful.