Editing Circle

Tonight I met with my editing circle, a group of writers in Toronto who I meet with every two weeks or so to compare work. There are currently four of us.

Three of us started meeting a little over a year ago, at a used bookstore in Toronto’s east end. I answered an online ad; I assume the others did too. The group there was larger, but was run by a person who, although her heart was in the right place, cared more about the idea of a writing group more than she cared about the actual writing. After only a few weeks, the group dissolved amid great drama; when the dust cleared, the three of us who formed the core of the group were left to ourselves.

We started meeting every two weeks, first at one person’s house, and now at a building on the UofT campus. Recently one of our members found a fourth, who has been a valuable addition to the group.

For me, the most important thing about an editing circle is the attitude of the people who participate. There’s no room, honestly, for someone who is nervous about showing work to others for critique and criticism; similarly, there’s no room for someone who doesn’t want to hear when their work is sub-par, ineffective, or needs changes. Everyone has to act like a professional.

I have two more requirements for people I want to interact with in an editing circle. One is that they must be actively writing (or editing something already written), and bringing new or newly revised material for critique. That means that they are actively engaged with the writing process. It also means that they are subject to critique themselves; it’s a lot easier to stay humble and constructive when you are regularly on the hotseat yourself.

The other is that they must be actively and realistically working towards publication. I have no problem with writing to get one’s thoughts down, or to record one’s memoirs for the benefit of future generations, or just doodling away at free verse or prose poems or whatnot. People can and should write whatever they want. But I find that I get the criticism I currently need from people who are, like me, working towards publication.

I know it may sound a little elitist, but these are the guidelines I’ve learned work best for me. And I’m happy to say that the three writers in my editing circle nowadays are absolutely perfect members. Our interests and styles are very different, our rates of output are all over the place, and our approaches and responses to the work are very different. But the discussion is always enjoyable and lively, and I get enormous benefit from our meetings.

That said, I got about 600 words written today, too. Not as much as I should be getting written, but forward progress is forward progress.

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