Writers Groups – Critiquing Methods – The 20 Page Whack

A formidable method that’s off-putting at first (to me, anyway)

Long ago and far away I mentioned writing something about my experiences in different writers’ groups.

Okay, I mentioned it as the last line in Writers’ Groups – Critiques. I’ve been a little busy and I’m getting back to it now.

Finding a critique group (different from writers’ group in my mind. A writers’ group has a purely social agenda. A critique group has a work agenda) that’s good for you is based on one question:

What is your goal/reason for being in a critique group?


I answered this question as it pertains to myself in Writers’ Groups – Introduction; lots of reasons and for me it comes down to one thing that I’ll say three different ways:

  • improving my storytelling and storycrafting
  • increasing my skill levels
  • learning my craft

There may be lots of other things that go on and bottom line, if I’m not improving/increasing/learning I’m out of there.

That noted, critiquing groups use different methodologies and, regardless of methodologies, are as different in the execution of those methodologies as the people in them. This post is the first dealing with critiquing methodologies I’ve encountered. At some point (note how long it took me to circle back to this post?) I may write about my experiences with groups themselves regardless of their methodology.

In all cases, I’m discussing critiquing groups that meet monthly and of course, I’m discussing methodologies I’ve experienced.

The 20 Page Whack
The 20 Page Whack involves at least one author per session reading their story (up to 20 pages. Get it?), participants read along and critique while the author is reading.

The first time I attended one of these sessions I didn’t like it. My work wasn’t being critiqued, it was the format that bothered me. The author reads an excerpt aloud while everyone follows along reading a copy and offers comments as they go. You’d get a third of the way through a paragraph and someone would offer a comment. Finish that, get another third through and someone else has another comment.

I found the constant interruptions frustrating and it wasn’t even my work being critiqued.

My main issue is that you can’t get a feel for a longer work when all you’re able to read is a long scene or a chapter at a whack (that’s the whack part of “The 20 Page Whack”). You have no basis for understanding things in context, the larger work isn’t part of the discussion.

Forest and Trees
After the second session, I appreciated this critiquing method for the exact reasons I originally disliked it.

Have you ever watched a movie you’re familiar with, perhaps you’ve seen it before and this time you walk in when someone else is watching it? You may or may not remember the movie in detail. However, because you’re coming in “in the middle” something stands out that you missed before precisely because you were caught up in the story.

You’ve heard “Can’t see the forest for the trees”? This is a case where you want to see the individual trees. More to the point, you’re looking for diseased trees that’ll kill the forest.

That ability to see what was missed because you were caught up in the story is priceless.

Give yourself an exercise; pick up a story you’ve written or a story you’ve read that you enjoyed and start reading halfway through. You may notice details you missed previously simply because you were in the flow of the longer work.

In any case, I’ve come to appreciate and enjoy these types of critiques because they’ve brought to my attention gaps in my own writing. Yeeha!

Bottom Line
I encourage writers to take part in these kinds of critique groups if you can find them.

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