Ann Arbor Area Writers Group
The more eyes, the better
by Charmie Gholson
Every Tuesday, area writers wedge themselves between the Money Management and Pop/Rock sections at Arborland Borders to review each other's work. The night I attended, ten folks were crowded around a table, intently studying their papers. I got a chair and squeezed in. A plate of chocolate-dipped strawberries sat in the center of the table, just out of reach.
A woman with shoulder-length brown hair was reading out loud. Good, I thought. Reading out loud is a great comprehension and editing tool. The story was good, too. It was a scene on a bus with teenagers bantering back and forth. She used satisfying metaphors, like "John . . . whose misery had splattered onto Kelly and me."
When she finished the reading, the woman sitting next to me offered the first comments. "I like this one better than the first version," she said, "but I feel like you could have done it in about a page and a half." A lively discussion ensued. Was it too long? Did she need to clarify this section? Was the movie reference accurate?
This woman got exactly what she came for: honest, constructive, intelligent feedback. She listened, thought, and responded. It was perfect. The more eyes on your work the better, I say.
The next writer passed out a chapter from her historical novel about Helen of Troy. There weren't enough copies to go around, so I shared one with the woman next to me. I was startled to see her make notes on the paper and edit exactly as I would. And here I had thought my insights were so unique and clever.
After the reading, more discussion ensued. A bearded man in a wool vest had concerns about some of the physical probabilities in a story about a woman being kidnapped. "How can she flail her legs if she's standing up?" he asked.
"Oh, he's just taking a chance for a grope," one woman responded flippantly, referring to
the kidnapper. "Men do that all the time."
"No, he's not trying to grope," the bearded man insisted, still looking at the paper. But no one was listening. The group caught a giddy wave and joked about groping until he patiently redirected them back to the work at hand. They made their notes, signed the copies, and gave them back to the writer.
On the night I attended, the writing was surprisingly strong, presumably because of the effectiveness of the feedback-edit-resubmit process. Everything read that night had already gone through revisions based on previous feedback. Strong writing is just raw material worked to death edited until it's complete.
This is a group for writers willing to self-edit. Each submission left me wishing I could read more. I'll be going back.
[Review published April 2007]