I proposed to my writing group a 6 Week Editing Path which requires people to commit to ‘getting together’ either virtually or in person with one or two other people several hours a week. The exact day/time/location is up to the group. At a minimum, critique the back of the book blurb, and the opening 100-150 words of six to ten chapters or scenes.
I’ve found that working on the first paragraph of a chapter with two other people (or even just one) helps. This can be done live at a coffee shop/restaurant/library, or online via an instant message chat. Since an entire chapter takes a long time to critique, and revise, focus on the opening paragraph of a chapter or a scene and work on that. Once that first paragraph is better, it’s easier to read the rest of the chapter, and make changes to it, on your own.
Surprisingly, another person can get a good idea of what is happening in your novel just by commenting on the first paragraph or two of each chapter. And since the reader is likely to occasionally pick up your novel after a day or two of not having read it, if the beginning of the chapter doesn’t draw them in, you probably need to work on that.
I matched people within my writing group into small groups of 2-3 people for a six week Editing Path, then sent them each the following steps. I hope it works out.
Steps for Editing Path — Working on the Beginning of Chapters with Feedback
1. Email each other and figure out your first meeting date, time, and place to occur within a week of Jan. 15th if possible.
If no one in your group does this, you’re not going to get much editing done. The place could be a jabber chat, or a google hangout, or an actual physical location. If it’s online, and you’d like me (Katherine Lato) to attend your first session, let me know when and what tool you’re using. I’ll let you know if I can make it.
2. Everyone make sure they have 100-150 words of a scene ready to go. Please at least read through it and correct any typos. It wastes time to not clean up the glaring errors the author sees.
3. At the time and date agreed upon, everyone goes to the ‘place.’ (This could be starting the jabber session, the google hangout, or driving to the location you agreed on.)
4. Say hi, introduce yourselves, chat for a few minutes. You can first share a bit about your books (the back of the book blurb if you have it), but don’t spend long on this part or you won’t get to the editing part. (No more than 10 minutes total with greeting and book information.) Figure out who is going first. (If in doubt, do it alphabetically by first names.)
5. Try not to apologize for what you’re posting. It just wastes time. We’re all here to improve our novels, so save the ‘this isn’t really good’ or ‘this stinks’ or …. It can sound like you’re expecting other people to give you reassurance. If that’s what you want, then you wouldn’t get the feedback you need to improve. So, save the modesty. Let your writing speak for itself.
6. a) If a live meeting – First person reads NO MORE THAN 150 words of a scene. Other people take notes, and comment after the author has read the passage. You could have a print-out, but it’s good practice to read it out loud, and you will find different things that way. (And you won’t have a print out of the revisions.) You may read less. But please don’t read more than 150 words.
b) If a virtual meeting – First person posts NO MORE THAN 150 words of a scene. Other people type in comments, what they like, what was confusing, suggestions for making it more vivid, or clearer. The author can make comments as well, but should mainly be collecting feedback, and trying to ‘fix’ things. Go through it line by line, getting as much as you can get done in five minutes. (Ten for the very first time, but five after that.)
7. Second person posts (or reads). Again no more than 150 words. Five minutes.
8. The third person (if you have three) posts. Five minutes.
9. Everyone revises their openings. Yes, do it right now. Don’t tell yourself (and the group) that you’ll ‘do it later.’ Fix the obvious things that can be fixed, then work on the harder parts. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can improve it. Take five minutes, more (up to ten) if the group agrees.
10. First person posts a revised version. If it hasn’t changed, then you’re not doing it right. Everyone makes comments again. Sometimes something will have changed for the worse, that’s all right. Just say what is wrong with it as it is now. Also what is right. Make suggestions. Five minutes.
11. Second person posts. Five minutes.
12. Third person (if you have three) posts. Five minutes.
13. Everyone revises again. Five minutes (or less.)
14. It’s possible that after the second time, a beginning will feel done. Or it may need a third pass. It’s up to the group as to how much time they have. It is also possible (especially if there are only two people in the group) that you’ll get to two or more chapter beginnings each. Go ahead.
15. Note: you may be tempted to do more than 150 words of a scene. I can’t stop you. (Unless I’m part of the group, and then I’ll complain a lot if anyone tries to get me to critique extra words.) I will warn you that if you try to give detailed feedback on entire novels or even an entire scene, you won’t get much done. If you just stick to the beginning of chapters, you can get through 6-12 in this six week session. And maybe your group will want to continue. It’s up to you.
16. Now go try it. (Oh, and between meetings, be sure to take a look at the openings you’ll be sharing next, and maybe revise the entire chapter as well.)
17. Have fun. (You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll comprehend about each other’s novels just by reading the beginning of six chapters.)