Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Reflections on Saturday Writers First 300 Editors' Panel

Today is St. Peters, MO: Current temp 67, with light rain.

Today I'm going to write about a writers' group near and dear to my heart --- Saturday Writers.

In January 2002, the Saturday Writers' chapter of the Missouri Writers' Guild was formed by Lou Turner, David "Kirk" Kirkland, Margo Dill, Amy Harke-Moore and me (Donna Volkenannt). In seven years we've grown from our five founders to around 80 regular members and 10 honorary members. Our motto is "writers encouraging writers." At our monthly meetings over the past seven years, we have sponsored speakers, hosted workshops, held poetry and short story contests, sponsored children and young writers' contests, and published Cuivre River Anthology and Cuivre Kids. We also have a website and a newsletter.

Our theme for 2009 is "taking your writing to the next level." One way we are encouraging (there's that word again) our members to stretch their writing muscles is by offering mini-teaching sessions before meetings to focus on areas of interest identified by a survey.

Last weekend I participated in an editors' panel, after Kirk gave a mini-session on "Self-Editing." The "First 300" editors' panel discussion members were: Amy Harke-Moore, editor of The Write Helper, and Louella Turner, publisher of High Hill Press, and me.

Lou, Amy, and I gave critiques and suggestions on the first 300 words of manuscripts submitted in advance. Treasurer David "Kirk" Kirkland read the submisssions (before and after versions).

Nine members submitted works (including a play) for critique, and one member submitted his manuscript the day of the meeting. For the last manuscript, the audience gave suggestions. What I found uplifting was the quality of the writing, Our members are so talented, yet they are still willing to learn and "take their writing to the next level."

I wanted to share some of the things I looked for when critiquing the fiction submissions:
  • Title - Is it interesting? Does it enhance the story?
  • Opening - Does it grab my attention?
  • Description - Is it fresh? Too much? Too little?
  • Characters - Interesting? Memorable? Complex?
  • Conflict - No conflict/no story.
  • Suspense - Does the story draw me in so I want to read more?
  • Sensory details - Does the writing appeal to all of my senses?
  • Voice - Is the voice engaging? Interesting? Unique?
  • Language - Creative? Appropriate? Enhance the mood/tone?
  • Humor - If used, does it work?
  • Word use - Vivid verbs and concrete nouns. Not a lot of "was, were, would, had." Adverbs and adjectives used sparingly.
  • Dialogue - Realistic or used for "info dump"?
  • Point of view - Consistent?
  • Narrative Arc - Beginning, middle, end.
  • Clutter Eliminated - Are unnecessary words/repetitions eliminated?
  • Conclusion - Satisfying? Surprising? Logical?
No one threw shoes at us during or after our discussion, so I guess our panel was a hit. In fact, after the meeting several folks, some whose work was critiqued as well as others, came up and thanked us for our comments. If you write fiction, I hope some of the points mentioned above can help you, too.

If you live in the metro-St. Louis area, check out Saturday Writers. We're a supportive and friendly group of "writers encouraging writers."


  1. Well, Donna, as a member of the audience I can vouch that the panel was a hit! In fact, a visitor sitting behind me was very excited and commented how much she learned from the panel comments. She's a retired schoolteacher just starting to write and plans to sign up for the workshop in October. Hopefully she also spoke to you about getting on the email list for Coffee & Critique.

    There you have it! Proof positive that Saturday Writers is a group that inspires members and guests alike!

  2. Hi Pat,
    Thanks for sharing what the woman said about the panel. I don't know about everyone else, but for me it is always a little nerve-wracking to speak in public, but the reception from the members was so warm, it made it fun!
    After the meeting one member signed up for our October 24 workshop with Pat Carr and Regina Williams.

  3. Thanks Donna, Lou and Amy. As one who submitted a story idea for critique I would like to say thanks to the judges. It was great to be able to hear the suggestions on ways to improve the writing. To get back copies of the work with written comments and suggestions from the judges was a happy addition.

    I expect you will see my story again in the future as a completed article. I have already expanded the 300 words to a thousand.

    I continue to find the Saturdaywriters very helpful and friendly to a newcomer.

    Thanks, keep up the good work


  4. Hi Stan,
    Thanks for your words of encouragement. I remember your story idea. It's a good one that needed some fleshing out. Wow! I'm impressed that you've already expanded it to 1,000 words. Keep at it.
    Donna V.

  5. Saturday Writers is such a great group; I feel so blessed to have the support and guidance of such talented writers.

  6. Hi Camille,
    Thanks for your words of support. Saturday Writers is blessed to have you as a member. Not only are you a wonderful writer, you also are a wonderful person!


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