Monthly Archives: January 2010

4.3: The Critique Waltz

Purses inside journal mandala close-up

Fred Astaire was an elegant dancer,
but Ginger Rogers had to be every bit as good—while dancing backward and in
high heels. Being at the center of a critique may feel like tottering on high
heels, but after this dance lesson you’ll keep your balance.

Sometimes you lead, and sometimes
you follow. It’s all about connection. Each partner contributes to the style
and mood of the dance while keeping the conversation going.


Yup, knowledge is power.

·       Know yourself and your needs—in both your emotional and writing life. Do you receive
criticism easily? What kind of group will serve you best? What do you want from
the group? At what stage is your writing and where do you want it to go?

·       Know your group.
Are you comfy?  Does the level of writing
challenge feel like a good fit ?

You’re the boss.  Structure
keeps you safe.

·        Speak up! Make specific requests at the level
of response you want. Is it witnessing—listening while you read the piece
aloud? Or, technical: Does the story arc work? Is the plot plausible?

·       Props at the ready.
Consider writing your questions out to share with the group. Be ready to take
notes and be silent. Ask for someone to take notes on the group discussion.

·       Tell me more…or not.
Need further clarification or want to explore a comment further? If you’re not
convinced an idea will work, say why and continue the conversation.  “I’m not sure how that will work. I need to
think about it.” Had enough for one night? If you’re maxed out on information,
ask to continue at the next meeting.

·        Sort it out. It’s yours; the writing belongs to
you. Go easy on doing everything the group suggested. Maybe your piece just
needs a little tweak. Those final writing decisions are yours alone.


Don’t step on your partner’s feet. Relax!
Your partner is there to help you, remember?

Listen up!  When a group member speaks, pay close attention;
listen with more than your ears.  What’s
being said?  Who’s saying it? How does
your stomach feel? Oh, yeah: breathe.

Soak it up.  Even if you don’t
agree, a graceful response keeps the music playing. No need to explain or
defend. While you’re nattering on, you’re likely to miss a beat.

Cool off! If you’re feeling discombobulated after a critique (hurt,
misunderstood, or angry), no need to brood.  Sit out a dance while you and your manuscript cool
off. With a cooler head you can respond with a clear eye and balanced emotion.

 It’s the dance, sweetheart.   Critique is not
about you; it’s about the writing. You don’t need a make-over,
just brush up on your steps.

 Dancing and writing take hard work
and discipline. Keep practicing. Before you know it, you’ll be twirling across
the floor in the Critique Waltz. 


Column written by Janet Grace Riehl of St. Louis in collaboration with
Stephanie Farrow of Albuquerque.

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“Writing is Easy,” Says Humolosopher Mary Gordon Spence

Opening Salvos # 13 by Matilda Butler

Mary-gordon-spence “Writing is easy. You just need an opening, a closing, and the right words to get you from the first to the second.” said humolosopher Mary Gordon Spence. Humolosopher? That’s right. Mary Gordon Spence sees lighthearted magic in everyday events. Because that humor often shows up in her writing and her speaking, she decided to call herself a humolosopher. A word that is just as original as she is. 

During our recent interview, I asked Mary Gordon to share her insights as a public speaker, storyteller and coach, insights that would help women as they develop the opening to their memoirs. Not surprisingly, she began by noting that grabbing and holding an audience is as important in preparing a speech as in writing, perhaps even more so.  

Her first piece of advice is to “let your audience in immediately.” Mary Gordon repeated this several times and I think it is a good reminder to us that if we’re going to share our life story, or a piece of it in a memoir, we shouldn’t hold the reader at a distance but let her join us on our storytelling journey. 

Her second piece of advice is that an opening needs to be a predictor of your story. By this she means that the reader needs to know what the book is about and why she wants to read it. Of course, in a well-crafted memoir this is often handled in scene rather than summary. 

Her third piece of advice is that openings begin long before you start writing them. They begin back when you research your material, find your focus (theme and message), organize your story, and write the chapters. All of this prepares you for the right opening. 

If you’d like to know where Mary Gordon’s humor was originally honed, please join us on Women’s Memoirs where I've posted her audio and given you a peak at the advice her mother gave her in the first grade. Not feeling funny? Don't think you can pull off humor? Don’t worry, Mary Gordon urges you to be true to yourself. She says you reader will always know. However, I think you'll love her take on humor and how it is all around us. She even though one of my stories that I shared during the interview was funny. 

SCN-Heart1 Mary Gordon Spence is the luncheon keynote speaker at Story Circle Network’s Stories from the Heart V conference in Austin, TX February 5-7. She will entertain and enthrall us on Saturday February 6. We hope to see you there.