Critiquing and Paper Cuts

I’m lucky to live in a city where there are overlapping supporting circles of writers in every possible genre. I’m involved in a few writing groups, including an invite-only one, the venerable and awesome Slug Tribe (that just got a great write-up in the Austin Chronicle), as well as occasionally hitting a Meet-Up group every now and again. Plus the Writers’ League of Texas is based here, with its annual Editors and Agents conference and the cozier, and perhaps more “incestuous” ArmadilloCon (and I mean that in the least creepiest way!). And the Austin NaNoWriMo group, a once and future way to spend November.

Three of the above perform critiques on pieces. The most paper-prolific by far—and I say this with two bandaged fingers—is Slug Tribe. Probably best to bring at least fifteen copies of a piece. With a 5,000 upper limit, that’s approximately twenty sides of writing (more if there’s a lot of dialog). On average sixty percent of Sluggers write comments on the pieces, which I dutifully reel back and bring to my editing operating theater. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s 300-400 pages single-sided. Which I try never to do, what with the lack of available earthworms at my place.

So here’s the evening’s tidbit: collate them by page, putting them in reverse page order (so you’re working from the back of the piece forwards). Take the “global” written comments (thank you, thank you all for the thought put into them!) and put them at the back of the pack. Why?

  1. People tend to comment less towards the end of the piece. On-the-spot editing is tiring, and once a reader has made their point, why flog the expired equine?
  2. Going backwards makes it harder to skip something because the mind forms the logical construct of the paragraph, and not the backwards verbs of the placement.
  3. Those pesky page numbers mean very little when going through the tenth set of edits. What was on page one, with an easily spotted paragraph shape is no longer there. That means wasting brain and time trying to find something that there. Going backwards en masse means never having to figure out where you were before you carved up two paragraphs and inserted four clauses.
  4. It’s hard to know who commented on a page, until you get the the end (first pages). This means addressing each suggested edit on its own merit, and not on the merit of the author making the comment. Just because they’re a great writer doesn’t mean their edits have a greater weight than a sharp-eyed newcomer.

Enjoy a slightly less painful time editing your next critiqued work!

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