Hello from Dogpatch Writers Collective. We’re a mixed breed pack that’s been barking up the write tree since 2000. The DWC takes its name from the historic San Francisco neighborhood where the original members gathered to exchange and discuss their written work.
We’re honored to be asked to provide a guest post. At the Dogpatch we often post excerpts from our group writing critiques, so we thought we’d offer a snippet of our methodology.
DWC owes its existence in large part to the wonderful writer and teacher Margo Perin, contributor/editor of Only the Dead Can Kill and How I Learned to Cook. Some of our original members met in a writing class Margo taught in San Francisco where she modeled a style of story critique we gladly adopted for our writing group and use to this day.
WWFM: The first principal of offering a writing critique cues from the phrase: What Works for Me.
We operate from a premise that each reader inherently brings their personal sensibility and experiences to the critique. So it’s important to clarify that any opinions offered about how a piece is working come from a singular and, albeit perhaps highly skilled, still personal point of view. In our method, we focus first on what’s effective about the piece being discussed.
WWMIBFM: The second aspect of the critique cues from the phrase: What Would Make It Better For Me.
Again, acknowledging the personal source of the critique offered, each reviewer then comments on what elements of the piece could be revised to fully maximize the material from their perspective. The intent is to offer suggestions to consider for revision and to examine specific aspects of the piece from a craft standpoint. For example, the reviewer may note an instance where the plot seems disconnected. The intent is to lend each other creative muscle vs. overwhelming the discussion with ideas for rewriting—that’s left to the writer.
We avoid using overly subjective terms such as “I like/don’t like” or “I love/don’t love” in favor of “This works/doesn’t work for me,” reminding ourselves and the writer that they are receiving a single data point from a potential audience.
We suspend discussion among reviewers until everyone has delivered their initial critique, allowing the writer to hear each critique in its entirety without interruption.
We find it useful for the writer to focus on hearing the comments vs. potentially affecting the critiques by hastening to explain their own work. Hence the writer whose work is being discussed does not participate in the reviewers’ discussion until it concludes, at which point the writer might ask follow-up questions or bring up other elements they’d like to address.
We respect and appreciate that there are numerous ways to hold writing critique meetings and our members belong to other groups who do it differently. For the DWC, the “Margo Method” has worked for more than a dozen years and we feel it is part of the glue that has kept the group together and productive.
We always appreciate hearing how other critique groups organize themselves and their protocol for commenting on each other’s work—courteous round robin, unabashed free-for-all, or anything in between?
David, Jill, Wes, Laurel