Critiques During a Lockdown – Part 2

As I discussed in a prior blog post, writing during this current pandemic should be easy. We’ve all got so much extra time at home now. For someone of my…ahem…mature age, the “shelter-at-home” lifestyle means that I am pretty much in front of a screen all week. Loads of time for me to write.

However, instead of making optimal use of that time, I found myself in a pandemic malaise, unmotivated to write anything. When I emailed the other members of the Emerald Cove writer’s critique group, I discovered that they were in much the same motivational slump. We could no longer hold our monthly critique group meeting at Denny’s because the restaurants were closed, but we all needed the encouragement that our fellow authors provided during those meetings.

And we definitely needed the monthly writing deadline!

So we decided to try critique meetings via Zoom. We held our first Zoom meeting last month and our second one this past Wednesday. We spent a lot of the first meeting in a discussion of logistics. We used to distribute physical copies of our manuscripts during our meetings for each other to read, take them home for review, and then comment on them at the next monthly meeting. That practice worked pretty well, and we wanted to approximate it as best we could using technology.

I am happy to report that after two months of meetings, we finally have…a system. A Great System. Well, all right, maybe not great, but it has already prodded most of us back into writing again, so even if we have to tweak the system later, it is working.

In case it will benefit any other writing critique groups out there, let me pass along how our current system works.

During the Zoom meetings, we still discuss each other’s manuscripts from the prior month. We also talk about what is going on with our individual writing and how our shared projects are coming along.

In place of the written comments we used to write on the hardcopies of the manuscripts, we are now using the “review/comment” function in Word. It takes a little longer to type all our comments and corrections than it did when we could scribble in the margins, but it has the advantage of being easier to read than handwriting.

To exchange those reviewed copies, we use OneDrive. One of our members created a shared OneDrive folder for the critique group. Each month, she creates a subfolder with the meeting date on it. The manuscripts we “bring” to that meeting go into the folder with that meeting date.

During the meeting, we decide on the next meeting date. Our computer expert then creates a subfolder with that new date. Within that subfolder, she creates sub-sub folders with each of our names on them for comments. (“Comments to Susan”, “Comments to Danny”, etc.)

The reviewers “pull” the manuscripts, use the “save as” function to add their initials to the title, and make changes and comments with the review/comment function in Word. When the review is done, the new document is placed in the author’s subfolder for the next month’s meeting. So, if Danny reviews my story, he saves it with a title that includes “DA comments” and places it in the “Comments to Susan” folder for next month’s meeting.

I hope that explanation makes sense. If it sounds confusing, my apologies. To paraphrase Dr. McCoy: “I’m a novelist, not a technical writer, dammit!”

By the way, I should mention that one of our authors prefers to exchange reviewed copies by email, so we have a slight modification of the system for that individual.

-Susan 8/14/20

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