I’m scheduled to start a novel revision workshop through the UCLA Extension Writers' Program tomorrow, taught by Mark Sarvas. (He looks like he could be my grandson.) I just hope I’m doing the right thing by taking it. Not that I don’t think my work is any good, it’s just that it might be premature for the stage I’m in on my novel. But I know one thing for sure; it will jump start my work on the novel – something that has been too much on the back burner lately.
So to prepare for this class I had to pick a portion of the novel that others could read and critique. I chose chapters three and four. That took up the allotted page count – 15 pages double-spaced. We were also required to turn our selections in by January 22 with a one-page synopsis and what specifically we want help with going forward.
On January 23 I received a compilation of the entire classes’ work – or so I thought – and began reading. At the outset we were told that if our material wasn’t received by the 22nd it would risk not being read by the instructor or the class before the workshop starts. Well, that was definitely bogus. Late last week and early this week I began receiving pages to review from three late registrants. And then we were told that one person dropped the class so need to read her work. Guess what? I already had. All in all I've read about 200 pages of my classmates' chapters and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby to learn how it was revised. That part should be very interesting.
Along with other material we received about preparing for the class is a list of critique guidelines. It’s so important that we are respectful of our classmates’ work. Here are the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program guidelines.
Rules of the Road
• Always begin with what the author has done well.
• Be specific in your praise. Single out particular instances in the text of successes. Once you have done this, move on to areas requiring attention.
• Your best input will be as READERS. Do not try to be writers. You do not have to fix things, or suggest fixes. You merely have to point out things you do not feel work and you have all read more than enough to have a great sense of this. You are, after all, a book’s final audience.
• Be mindful of the writer’s intention. Don’t try to rewrite a piece the way you would have written it, rather help the writer improve his or her vision of their own work. And if you don’t understand that vision, say so.
• Be very specific about your problems. Avoid flabby, useless, subjective language like “I didn’t like it” or “I was bored” or “I don’t get it.” Instead, talk about how a character’s behavior strikes you as inconsistent, or not fully thought out and then explain why. If you articulate your problems as clearly as possible, the writer will have a better shot of figuring out a fix.
• Try to preface things with “to me” or “this reader” or “to my eye” or “for my taste” – it reminds both the reviewer and the reviewed that responses are subjective.
• Stay impersonal, polite and respectful. Remember you are discussing the text, not the author. Do not confuse the writer for his or her writing.
• Be encouraging and remember – it’s scary (and brave) to put yourself out there!
• To the writer: Do not argue or defend anything. Do not speak at all. Listen and take notes on anything that rings a chord. (And feel free to disregard anything that does not.)
• When the critique is done, if you have a question or would like clarification or want to discuss a possible solution, begin by asking, “May I ask a follow up question for clarification?”
• Remember – whatever you intended or think you did doesn’t matter in the face of a reader who does not get it.
• And if everyone in the room says the same thing, you should probably listen.
I think this is a very helpful list. Since I’ll be in class for the next four days, I’ll follow up on how the workshop turned out next week. I’ll also let you know how everyone adhered to these guidelines.
And this is really cool. I looked on the writer's program website and found my success story among others who have taken classes and workshops there. Here's the link to mine: http://www2.uclaextension.edu/writers/success.php?recordID=237