Are you considering joining the Noble Pen? Wonderful! This is a guide to how we run our meetings and what you can expect from us if you decide to attend.
Noble Pen meetings are held every Thursday, except during the holidays. (We determine if there is a holiday we aren’t meeting for, and put it in our newsletter on this website.) While meetings nominally run from 7 pm until 8:30 or 9, you may come when you can, leave when you need to. No problem. If you can’t attend every week, no problem. Some members have a once-a-month conflict, hectic school schedules, or out-of-town work assignments.
Our Meeting Structure
- Introductions: if we have a new member, we do a round of introductions.
- Critique Scheduling: We go over the schedule and determine what will be up for critique in the following weeks. This is determined on a first come, first served basis. If anyone is dropped from the schedule, the pieces after it are moved up one slot, unless an author doesn’t want to be moved up. (If there are issues with the schedule it is up to the group coordinator to determine how to resolve the schedule. He or she makes the final determination.)
- Victories: this is a brief open-floor for anyone to mention any literary victories they’ve had. These include things like: breaking through writer’s block, publishing a piece, receiving a rejection, etc (yes, even a rejection is a victory – the attempt is the important part).
- Announcements: such as determining holiday schedules, special events the members may be interested in, a book you think others may want to read, etc.
- Critiques: we typically critique two or three pieces a week. The submitters are listed in the newsletter published each week on this website, and they email the material to the group.
- Round-tables: If we don’t have three pieces to critique in a week, we try to hold a round-table discussion, lesson, or exercise on a writing subject. (We determine this during the critique scheduling.)
What To Expect
Email List: We will ask if you want to join the mailing list for authors to distribute critique pieces, and for you to receive announcements of our weekly newsletter (the one published here). We do nothing else with your email address, and will gladly remove your address from the list if asked. If you are worried about privacy, create a free account on gmail, yahoo, etc. just for this purpose (just remember to check it regularly). Be sure to check your junk folder if you don’t seem to be getting the messages, and then use the contact form here if you are still missing the messages.
What we critique: we are open to critiquing short stories, novels, essays, articles, etc. We do limit it to fiction or non-fiction prose – we don’t critique poetry. We are open to most genres: literary, general, historical, sci-fi, fantasy, westerns, military, essay, romance (including erotic romance, but not pornography), etc.
There is no minimum writing skill level for joining the group. We welcome people who just had their first inspiration for a short story, that have been keeping a journal for years and want to try their hand at writing something, all the way to published authors. And yes, even a published author benefits from having more eyes on their work.
How we submit material: A submission is typically a short story or one or more chapters of a novel. In order to allow busy people time for reading and critique, we ask authors to keep submissions to less than 6,000 words each if there are two slots or 4000 words each if there are three slots. If your chapter ends a couple hundred words over don’t sweat it, but try to keep within the spirit of the guideline.
When you are scheduled to submit, email it out attached to a “Reply All” to the newsletter announcement by Monday night. After that, the guideline is to reduce your quota proportionally to the time left for people to read it; 4,000 words on Tuesday or 2,000 words on Wednesday.
File types .rtf, .doc, and .docx seem to work for about everybody. A .txt could be used but won’t format as well. A .pdf will work for everybody, but some like other file types to insert comments electonically or reformat and save paper. If you reformat, it is much easier for the author to compare markups if you only change line spacing and not the side margins so as to keep the line breaks in place.
Submitting pieces after joining: We ask that you attend a few meetings first (typically two or three) and participate in the critique process before submitting your own writing. We do this for several reasons:
- Participating for a few weeks levels the playing field for everyone: new and regular members understand each other better.
- How you critique a piece helps us understand your writing process and skill level. This helps us to understand how to critique a piece for your benefit.
- Participating in the critiques is as much for the critiquer’s benefit as it is for the author. Critical reading will help you to develop as an editor for your own work, which will help improve your writing.
- Hearing other peoples critiques will give you some insight into what a critique can (and can’t) do for you.
- We used to allow new members to submit pieces when they joined. Unfortunately, this led to several issues: (a) they didn’t like the critique process, (b) they didn’t understand what to expect from the critique, (c) we weren’t able to critique their work to their expectations, (d) they weren’t as invested in the group as the regular members are.
How to prepare a critique: Read the material before the meeting, and mark up a printout, or just make notes to give the author. Identify what you liked and every suggestion you would make to the author to improve the piece. Either give the author the print out or an email. Put your name on the printout to help the author associate your comments at the meeting with the markup. Summarize your major points for reference when speaking.
Typical positive comments might be: I really felt I knew the characters and their feelings. The plot tension has me hooked. The descriptions are vivid.
Typical improvement comments might be: Give the character a problem right away to hold reader interest better. Show how the character feels through actions, don’t just tell us he’s angry. Use action verbs instead of passive “was”, and shorter sentences, to make the battle seem more exciting. I could use more description to help visualize the character or setting. This word was not used in the time period of the story. Sentence structure is repetitive and could be varied. The character’s actions are not plausible for the situation. The stimulus needs to be told before the reaction.
Critiques should be expressed in the most positive manner you can, without attacking the author personally. There is a huge emotional difference between “You screwed up the plot” and “It would be more interesting for X to happen here”, or between “This is dumb” and “I didn’t think the character was the kind who would do that, and I would need to see more of their motivation.”
How to give a critique: At the meeting, we go around and give each person a chance to say up to three things they liked about the piece, and up to three things they think could be improved. The author should take notes. The reviewer can also ask the author short questions (no author defense or long reply here).
If the size of the group permits us time, we relax this rule to allow more comments, but please do not spend too much time on minor things. Concentrate on the major things that bothered/confused you and big trends.
Don’t mention every detail of grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling, but if a trend is evident that might be one of the major points you make. The details can be left as markups and handed in to the author.
The reviewer is entitled to politely express their opinion, but should not persist in trying to convince the author to see it their way.
After we go around the table, the author gets to ask for clarifications about the points made, and to answer questions posed. It is not advisable to respond to every comment made, nor to announce which suggestions you will and will not use. Don’t give a rebuttal and try to convince others to see things your way. The comments are a sampling from readers and how the writing communicated with them; other readers will have only your writing.
A general discussion among the attendees should follow, and more comments offered if time permits.
How to use the results of a critique: The critiques are suggestions that the author may or may not find useful. It is their story, and they should feel like they can accept or reject any of the comments. Sometimes it is necessary to think (do not say), “You’re not my target audience.” If several people say similar things need improvement, though, you should probably consider changes.
We hope this gives you some insight into how the Noble Pen works as a writer’s group. If you have any questions, please feel free to email us using the Contact Us! page.