Monday, April 11, 2016

Writing As a Participatory Process Invites the Reader In

Writers like to think of themselves as loners. They often work in isolation, exploring a private and personal journey in the quiet of a favorite room with a view. Some even refer to themselves as “anti-social.” They jokingly admit they’re in their own head too much.

But isn’t writing a participatory process? I believe it is which is why I love sharing work with others through small critique sessions, or beta reader groups, or in the read around that is the Women's Writing Circle. 


As the facilitator of a writing group I’ve gotten an up close and personal look at much of what stymies the writer  . . . that is, until she shares her work.

In our current project, Life Unexpected, an anthology of stories and poems with the title serving as our theme, we’ve broken into small online beta groups with an editor at the helm. The editor is primarily the organizer since the editor's own story for the book is also critiqued by the group. There’s a nice egalitarian aspect to this; communicating realizations, breaking down boundaries, and sharing, not just with friends and family, but fellow writers we've never met.

At our April Women’s Writing Circle critique session, we marveled at what transpires after we read aloud our work and the critiquer takes notes and offers suggestions to the author for improvement and clarity.

Here’s what we learned: Sometimes, we’re so close to our characters, (especially if it’s ourselves, or someone who played an instrumental role in our lives) we forget the simplest details.

  • What does he look like?
  • How old is he or she?
  • What motivates him or her?
  • Is backstory necessary (usually, the answer is a resounding yes!) and how can this be accomplished in a way that doesn’t unduly slow down the action or narrative?

    And while we’re talking about characters . . . It’s amazing how much more we offer the reader if we understand psychology – our own and others. I’ve written a post about this: The Writer As Amateur Psychologist.

This is where the digging deep comes in . . . the soul-searching . . .

It is the part where we realize we have a covenant with the reader. We present life through a “participatory lens” – letting the reader into a world redolent with universal themes and populated by a “cast of characters.”

We all know who they are. 

The man who would rule a woman through force of will or religious dogma; the ungrateful son who always expected his mother to put a meal on the table but does little for her in her old age; the poor and humble man whose way of life forces an entire community to re-examine its ideals and values.

As we share our work in a participatory process, we value the reader.

What makes us love a person? How can we love if we don’t understand ourselves? Why is a character angry? Who makes a difference and why?

At our Saturday Women's Writing Circle critique session, I felt the magic of the participatory process when I read my work. Comments I received . . .“I can identify with this . . . I, too, have felt this way” . . . makes the hard work of writing so very rewarding. A writer has brought the reader into the “circle” of her and her character's own life experience.

So this is a call to step out of the isolation of your head, read and share your work with others . . . even if it is in the fledgling or draft stages. Participating, sharing, breaking down the barriers through the written word is a gift.

What has your experience been when sharing your work?
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