by Elizabyth Harrington
One of the things we do at 9 Bridges is to offer critique groups. Our most popular format for this is our verbal critique groups where people bring material to read out loud. About once a month someone has a question about the format of the group. Usually it’s a request to share files prior to the meeting or to bring printed material to pass out. The logic from the author’s viewpoint is that the person hearing the material will miss things if they aren’t following along with something on paper.
But the benefits to a verbal group outweigh the disadvantages.
Listening is an incredibly important skill that we as humans in industrialized nations are losing. I’m not talking about losing our hearing, although we are bombarded daily with more noise than our ancestors(grin). I’m talking about really paying attention to what someone is saying. With emails and social networks replacing phones and in-person friendships, we are slowly losing that social interaction that requires talking to and listening to one another. That is one of the reasons why the verbal format of these critique groups is so important. In addition to everything else they get out of the group, members are forced by the very format to practice their listening skills.
The art of storytelling started as an oral tradition, and in many ways, it still is. A good piece of writing has a natural flow to it, a little like a stream that carries the reader to sea. This is something that is easily picked up through listening, but can be lost while staring at something on paper. Things like pacing, voice, repetition and dialogue stand out when a piece is read out loud. Many writers habitually read their pieces out loud to themselves while editing – we’ve just taken this to a group dynamic.
Not only do our critique groups encourage the development of good listening skills, but they provide a safe place for writers to practice reading in public. With the resurgence of independent book stores and the importance of self-promotion among authors, it’s vital, more than ever before, to develop this ability.
Finally, while the verbal format allows writers to share and receive feedback on their own material, there’s another important benefit: participants get to hear the feedback on other writers’ work as well. I’ve improved my own writing tenfold simply from listening to the feedback given to my critique group peers.
Whether you prefer a written or verbal style, critique groups are an important resource for writers. If you haven’t experienced this for yourself, we invite you to check out one of our groups at a 9 Bridges Chapter near you.