As promised, below, my friends Harriet Anena, Lillian A. Aujo and Davina Kawuma talk about belonging to a writing club and critiquing other writers’ work.
Would you advise someone to join a writing group?
Harriet Anena: A writing group with members that are dedicated to growing your art and not just tearing your work apart is a must join. Group members help you see the good and bad you may not have noticed in your work.
What do you think has helped your particular group work?
Lillian A. Aujo: Hard work, dedication and earnest critique. All these mean rewrites and drafts of drafts so we are all usually working on something.
Should writers critique other writers’ work or should that be left to readers and critics?
Davina Kawuma: Because I am both a reader and a writer, I suspect that there’s more than one way for me react to the written word. The reader-me approaches writing less as a critic and more as someone who wishes to be edutained. I won’t deny that I occasionally succumb to the despicable practice of reading to ‘spy’ what effects other writers are creating, and to attempt to demystify why and how and for what purpose these effects were created. However, I find, still, that I read mostly because I enjoy reading.
On the other hand, I approach critiquing with a bit of trepidation. (And perhaps this is why the reader-me makes for a terrible critic.) It is no secret that I have often thought of a ‘critique’ as something highly specific, the sort of thing one ought to offer in specialised language. Often, I have baulked at the mere suggestion that I offer a ‘critical appraisal’ of something someone has written. ‘Critique’ sounds smug, at least to me it does, while, for instance, ‘feedback’ strikes me as unassuming—the sort of undertaking that is within my jurisdiction. Consequently, I never think of what I am doing, while I am reading a writer friend’s poem or short story, as critiquing. I think of it as an opportunity to offer feedback on things I know something about and to ask questions about things I know nothing about.
I think having a trusted group of writer friends read your work is important for more than reviews. There is a psychology to it that I always decline to underestimate. Time will not permit me to tell of how many stories I have abandoned because the first person who read them either misinterpreted or misread them. And, yes, I believe there is such a thing as misreading—I also insist that the feelings of betrayal and demotivation that accompany such misreadings are unbearable.
Of course it is helpful to surround yourself with people who are willing to take the time to understand what you are trying to do or say, and who are interested in helping you do or say something more elegantly, or, sometimes, as is often necessary, in a different way altogether. The people who have provided most focus to my work have been writers who are, incidentally, also prolific readers. Because, sometimes, you think you’re communicating, you think you and your readers are participating in a civilized and enriching conversation. You think you and your readers are having intercourse. Unfortunately, it sometimes turns out that what you’ve been doing, all along, is masturbating. And who better to break this to you, as gently but firmly as possible, than a trusted writer friend? A writer who sympathises with your hustle but who will not, under or above any circumstances, suffer rubbish?
Jens, I hope this further explains the importance of a writing group and getting honest feedback from people. I am the only one in the group that isn’t a poet. If you would like to read some of their poems, you can get it here: A Thousand Voices Rising
Talk again soon!