It was my first time at the Lawndale Library and I was pleasantly surprised by how beautiful the library was--inside and out.
Everything looked new and modern. There were computer terminals for students to use, as well as computerized check-in and check-out counters for the books. Desks and chairs were spread out along the facility beside bookshelves.
The staff was accommodating, too . I arrived 30 minutes early for our 1 pm meeting. I wanted to set up the room for our critique session and prepare the usual sign-in materials. Though the room had been reserved for 1pm, Michelle, the librarian led me straight away to the meeting room.
There were a few teenagers working in the room when we got there, but they left without qualms when Michelle told them the room had been reserved. When I expressed my awe at how beautiful the library was, Michelle informed me the library had just been reconstructed about a year ago. I thanked her, and she left me to set up for the meeting.
I was so impressed with how functional the meeting room was, that I just had to take pictures.
A long table spanned the length of the room. It had two outlets on either end for people who wanted to use their laptops. There were two white boards complete with markers and erasers that we could use, as well as a TV.
People started trickling in around 1 PM. We asked them to sign-in for attendance and gave them nametags. (It was a good thing,too, because there were a lot of new faces that Saturday). I encouraged our members to eat the cookies I had baked for the event, as well as take some water that Amanda had brought for everyone.
We started the meeting at 1 PM. We introduced ourselves, and gave everyone an idea of what we were currently writing or what we wanted to work on. I always ask our members to pick a question from the box to answer. It's a fun way of getting to know people, as well as sparking story ideas.
After the round of introductions, I introduced to them the newly formed Leadership Team, composed of Jennifer Bailey (Second Scribe/Co-Organizer), Lucy Ravitch (Steward/Logistics Commander), Amanda Touchton (Chamberlain/Treasurer) and Nandini Dev (Herald/Publicity Head).
I went into a short review of the last two meetups, for the sake of those who were just joining us for the first time. I distributed copies of the old worksheets and handouts to our new attendees, and explained that these materials were the reason behind my request for them to bring a binder.
After expounding on the purpose of a critique session, and what to expect during a critique, I explained the format of our critique session:
1. Each person will be given 25 minutes. A voice recorder may be used to record the reading and the critique.
2. 5 minutes will be allotted for the reading of the piece. The work must be read by another member, to give the author a chance to hear her words, and make notes on what works/what doesn’t work.
3. The rest of the 20 minutes will be for feedback and comments, during which time the author is not allowed to say anything. She is instead, encouraged to listen to the feedback with an open mind and take notes.
I used the model I had learned from the SCBWI Westside Schmooze critique session I had attended (Thanks, Lee Wind and Rita Crayon-Huang!):
TACT. It's a word that means having a keen sense of what to say or do to avoid giving offense, as well as a skill in dealing with difficult or delicate situations. It's also an acronym that stands for:
T = Terrific (Where we share what we loved about the piece, what story elements really work in the writing sample)
A = Author Questions (This comes at the last few minutes of critique time, where the author is encouraged to ask questions to clarify comments or feedback regarding her piece.
C= Constructive comments (Members are encouraged to give honest and helpful critique of the author's work, in a tactful manner)
T= Talent (A round of applause ends the critique session, and we encourage the author to keep on writing)
I asked Lucy to be the timer for our critique. We started with Nandini's "Ladybugs", then proceeded to Amanda's "Twins", then to Jenn's "Dark Forest." The critiques went over the time limit so we had to take a break at 3PM because some of our members needed to attend to other events. During the break, we talked about logistics since our new members had questions about what to expect from next few meetups.
I informed them that the critique session was only part of what we planned to do in the writing group. I told them to expect writing workshops, writing sessions, as well as book discussions and discussions on various story elements. I also told them that once we got our membership up, we would invite local authors to share their work and words of wisdom with us.
I also brought up the issue of emails. I told them that some members might not appreciate having their inboxes flooded with meetup emails about other writing related activities or events. We try to accommodate all our members' needs, so they should feel free to tell us whether they mind the emails or not, as well as inform us about other issues that might come up.
We resumed our critiques with my own writing sample "Urth". I told them I didn't mind if it wasn't critiqued that day, because I knew we were running out of time, but everyone was nice enough to insist that they at least give their feedback. So, we skipped the reading and dove in right away to their comments--which were all very helpful, by the way.
The last critique we did was for Lucy's "Pizza Menu" picture book. We ended at 4pm, and though some of our members left early, they all promised to be back for the next session.
All in all, it was the best session we've had so far. The venue was conducive and very functional, the cookies very helpful in "sweetening the blow" of the critiques (though everyone was very good about giving constructive and helpful comments), the water great for washing down the authors' anxieties, feedback and comments were very helpful, and much appreciated, and most of all the energy brought in by our new attendees was positive and invigorating.
The book sale the library was having (where they were selling great titles from 25c to $1) was only a bonus.
I left the library 5 minutes before it closed, lugging the 17 books I had bought for $11.
As I drove home, I thought about all the wonderful new writers I met today, and about all the great feedback I got. I couldn't help but smile, and look forward to our next meetup.