A guest post by Leanne Moden. Big thanks to her for taking the time to write this. Photo by Andrew Lee.
Leanne Moden is a poet, performer and educator, based in Nottingham. She’s performed at events across the UK and Europe, including sets at WOMAD Festival, the Edinburgh Fringe and Bestival on the Isle of Wight. Leanne is a member of World Jam and her second pamphlet of poetry, ‘Get Over Yourself’ was published by Burning Eye Books in 2020. Find out more about Leanne on her website: leannemoden.com
Writing is a lonely business. You spend hours tapping away on a keyboard, or scribbling in a notebook. You draft and redraft, edit and re-edit, and make so many changes to your manuscript, that it often stops making any sense at all.
That’s when you need a writing gang! A little team of supportive folk who can read your work and tell you where it’s going well, and where it needs some tweaking.
Crit Groups – as these little gangs are now called – are not a new phenomenon. In the early twentieth century, the Bloomsbury Set regularly gathered in London to share ideas, and the Inklings, a crew that included writer J.R.R. Tolkien, met every week during the 1930s and 1940s to discuss their works in progress.
I met my own Crit Group at an open mic in Nottingham, and we bonded over a mutual respect and love for each other’s work. We’re all very different writers, but we meet once a month to talk about our works in progress. We help each other by encouraging our respective writing goals, making suggestions, weeding out typos, and generally having a brilliant time!
The Crit Group is a safe place to experiment with new ideas, and having regular meetings has been so beneficial for my mental health – particularly during the pandemic. It’s given me something to look forward to, and allowed me to check in with my pals while doing something that we love. It’s also provided an impetus to write, giving me a monthly goal and pushing me to create. It can be hard to find the motivation to start a new piece, but knowing that I can bring it to Crit really helps me to complete a first draft.
Of course, it’s always tricky to give and receive criticism – even if it’s constructive! So here are my top seven tips for making the most of attending a Crit Group:
Find Your People – The best Crit Groups are made up of people from different backgrounds and disciplines, people who understand the process of writing and editing, and people who love reading!
Be Kind – When giving constructive criticism, always say what you like about a piece first, before tackling suggestions for improvement. And always finish on a compliment too!
Understand Your Goals – Are you primarily looking for support and encouragement or are you hoping to focus on constructive suggestions for improvement? Make sure your goals align with the group, so everyone knows where they stand.
Reciprocity is Key – If you want people to be helpful, kind and rigorous with your work, you have to be prepared to provide the same for them. Crit Groups work best when everyone is contributing equally.
Be Open to Suggestions – Other writers will have insights into your work that you haven’t yet considered; always be open to all advice and suggestions but remember…
You Can (Politely) Decline Advice too – Learning when to take advice on board is a skill, but there will be times when you have to go with your gut. That’s ok (in fact, it’s brilliant) but remember to be grateful for all suggestions, whether you follow them up or not.
Enjoy Yourself – Writing can be hard work, so remember to take full advantage of the Crit Group as a space to have fun, experiment, and take risks in your writing!