Friday, July 23, 2010

Summertime, and the Livin’ is Busy!

This summer, I’ve been occupied with monarchs, photographing every stage I can locate from eggs to caterpillars to butterflies. I dug up milkweed plants from the backyard, brought them inside, and moved them back outside when so many eggs hatched that caterpillars threatened to take over the house. I saw caterpillars become chrysalises, watched the chrysalises change from green to black, and happened to be there when a few of them emerged as butterflies. Lucky me!

Yesterday, 8.4 inches of rain fell here in two hours; a neighborhood rain gauge measured 11.2 inches for the day! Streets flooded, sinkholes opened up, and the governor declared a state of emergency in Milwaukee County. A few blocks away from our house, water in basements was measured in feet, not inches. We live on a hill, so even though our yard was underwater, our basement had only seepage that flowed in rivulets to the drain. Lucky us!

I’m teaching two six-week summer courses that end next week. Although I love seeing my students’ original, creative, thoughtful work, I’m looking forward to focusing on my own writing again during the semester break. Lucky me again!

I could surely write volumes about the value of working with a trusted critique group--especially mine! But because I know we’re all busy, I’m going to limit myself to a few suggestions.
  • Don’t underestimate the benefit of having extra sets of eyes looking over your work. In every writing group and workshop I’ve been part of, each member focuses on a different aspect of a manuscript. While one sees big picture issues such as plot, another asks whether a character would actually behave that way, and another looks at vocabulary, rhythm, or rhyme. Each group member brings a different perspective and a different set of expectations. Take advantage of all those points of view!
  • My students often ask how to know what to include in a critique of another writer’s work. I tell them to trust their instincts. When you read through a manuscript the first time, notice the places where something grabs your attention. Underline those spots, whether you admire the language, you don’t understand something, or you don’t even know exactly why the words caught your eye. Then go back and focus on those spots to figure out what stood out and why.
  • Whether you are critiquing or being critiqued, be specific. When your work is in the spotlight, let others know what you are looking for: big picture issues for an early draft or fine-tuning suggestions for a nearly finished manuscript. When you critique someone else’s work, praise what you find well crafted and be tactful about what doesn’t work for you. If you are unsure of something, ask questions about the writer’s intentions.
Student papers await my comments, and the forecast calls for more rain. Back to work!

JoAnn Early Macken


Unknown said...

Useful advice.
It is true that you learn different things from different people.

JoAnn Early Macken said...

Thanks, Elaine! Yes, I find that I learn a lot from my students, too!

Maria said...


I recently compiled a list of the Top 10 Blogs for Writing Teachers, and I
just wanted to let you know that you made the list! It
is published online at

Thanks so much, and if you think your audience would find useful
information in the list or on the site, please feel free to share the
link. The blog is just starting up, so we always appreciate a linkback
as we're trying to increase readership.

Thanks again, and have a great day!


Carmela Martino said...

Thanks, Maria. We are most honored.
I plan to share the news with our readers next time I post. Good luck with your new site.