Choosing which Writing Tips to follow

Be Careful Whose Writing Advice you follow

Someone unencumbered by a day job, childcare or disability is going to give advice useful to people in their situation. If you have a day job, childcare or disability or any combination of those, following such advice is setting yourself up to fail. That’s not to say the original advice was bad, just that it doesn’t apply to someone in your situation.

Write everyday is good advice for someone starting out who needs to get into the habit of writing. But bad advice if you’re the type of writer who works in fits and starts.

Be Careful What You Measure

We tend to do what we can measure, but only measure what you can control. You have no control over which submissions will become rejections or acceptances. You can influence the ratio of acceptances to rejections by checking you’re sending your best work, you’ve read your target market and know your work to be a good fit and you’ve triple-checked you’ve followed the guidelines. However, these precautions won’t guarantee success. Targeting x number of acceptances or y number of rejections won’t work because the outcome isn’t under your control and sending out submissions with the aim of hitting an acceptance/rejection target encourages you to submit even when what you have available to submit isn’t right for that market.

Another easy measurement is the word count. It’s so easy, the word processing program does it for you. But it’s problematic:

You set yourself a target of 2000 words per day. Monday you reach 1000 words. You’re actually pretty pleased with that: first day of a new regime, you’re just warming up so half-way there is a good start.

Tuesday, you write 2000 words, hitting your target. Moreover, you’ve got to the end of a short story. Measurement-wise, this is a success.

Wednesday, you sit down and look at your 3000 word story. You realise it’s bloated and start trimming all the adverbs, take out that repeated scene and decide to take out a minor character who had some good dialogue but didn’t add anything to this story (the character’s not been killed, just put aside for a story where their good dialogue is relevant). At the end of your writing session, you now have a story ready for submission. This is actually your most productive day. Measurement-wise, however, it’s a disaster. You wrote -1000 words.

What You Need To Measure

All readers care about is if your story or poems are any good. They don’t care if you spent 20 minutes or 20 years writing them. They don’t even care how many rejections your story/poem had before it was accepted. They care about whether what you wrote was a good read, however that is defined. Some readers want a pacey thriller, some an escapist romance, some want to be transported to another time period or another world, some want a thought-provoking poem.

Getting words on a page is only part of that achievement. It’s also the most measurable part, but only accounts for, at best 20%, of creative writing. Once words get on the page, they need editing. No one’s first draft is brilliant: it has to be sifted to see if those flashes of gold were genuine or pyrite.

But the most important part comes before words get to a page: the thinking, planning, plotting, researching, immersion in the fictional world you want to create. If your measurements don’t give yourself time to create, to play, your writing won’t be creative.


Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.

Bookstall at Leicester launch of The Significance of a Dress

#ShareYourRejections

I’m not going to share mine. Rejections are boring. I don’t think it’s helpful to hear that a published poet got so many rejections for her first book but kept going because:

  • Success isn’t just about persistence and tenacity
  • The try again and keep going message can give false hope
  • It implies rejections stop when you reach a certain level of success

Persistence and Tenacity

  • Some editors simply don’t like your poems. It’s possible to appreciate the craft and technical skills in a poem but not actually like it. Don’t give up at the first rejection, but if a magazine invariably rejects your work, move on and find an editor that likes your work.
  • Sometimes poets send out their poems too early which is why it’s worth finding a beta reader, workshop or writers’ group so you can get feedback on your work before you send it out to editors.
  • Editors don’t have time to give feedback on poems. It’s frustrating not knowing why you’ve been rejected but it’s more likely to be that your poems weren’t the right fit or too similar to work already accepted or the editor gets more poems in a week than she can publish in a year.
  • Do your research: find magazines that you like reading and that publish poems by poets you like and try them first. Check you’re not sending your traditional sonnets to a magazine that prefers prose poems. Continually sending prose poems to a magazine that only publishes villanelles wastes your time and irritates the magazine editor.
  • Don’t compare your failures with others’ successes. You don’t know how many times that poem was rejected before it was accepted. You don’t know how many rejections they got that week they posted about an acceptance on social media.
  • There are more poets than places to get published.

The False Hope of Try Again and Keep Going

  • It’s worth trying again if you’ve only had one rejection from a magazine and if you’ve done your research and think your poems are a good fit for the magazine.
  • It’s not worth trying again if there’s a mismatch between your poetry style and the magazine’s poetry style. Don’t get trapped into thinking you’re not a poet if you’ve not been published by The New Yorker or Poetry Review.
  • When you get a rejection, always re-read the poems that have been rejected. A fresh look might help you notice the awkward phrase in the second stanza or that the last line isn’t necessary. Edit and submit to another magazine.
  • If an editor doesn’t like your poems, they aren’t going to change their mind on the twentieth submission. Try another magazine.
  • If you’re getting good feedback when you perform your work but get rejected by magazines, chances are your performance is bringing something to your poems that’s absent on the page. Consider how to represent the missing element or consider recording your performances instead.
  • One rejection of a poem doesn’t imply there’s anything wrong with the poem. Multiple rejections of the same poem imply that it might be unfinished. Consider an edit or seek feedback before trying again.
  • Are you really a prose writer who wants to be a poet? Someone with amusia will never be a successful singer no matter how much they want to be, how many times they try, how frequently they change vocal style in the hope that their failure at opera will turn to success in pop, their failure at pop will turn to success in punk, how many hours of practice they do, how adept they get at using auto tune on their vocals or if they stalk the record label owner. However, there’s nothing to stop them becoming a successful drummer. You don’t have to stop writing poems just because your stories are more successful, but, when it comes to getting published, focus on where your talent actually lies.

Rejections Don’t Stop

Most of the magazines that accepted my poems in my first years of trying to get published no longer exist. The publishing landscape is forever changing: existing magazines change editors or fold and new magazines start. Being a published writer means being alert and open to new opportunities and that means potential rejection. Rejection can be minimised by doing your research, only submitting to markets where you know your work’s a good fit and knowing that you’re sending off the best versions of your poems, but it can’t be entirely eliminated.

Tips for Writing a Writer’s Biography

There are two types of writer’s biography. There’s the visible one that appears in print either on a book cover or in the contributors’ notes in a magazine and there’s a biography that goes with a covering letter or submission form. Both require the same approach.

Do

  • Think edited highlights – you might want to write your memoirs or autobiography later so don’t give it all away now;
  • Check available word count – some publications give a word limit – or look at previous issues of the magazine to get a feel for how much space you have;
  • Keep it brief – no editor is going to read more than a paragraph or so;
  • Tailor publication credits to the editor or publication – choose a couple of good examples of previous publications and mention them, put most recent first as if you’re writing a CV or résumé;
  • If you don’t have publication credits, think about areas that might show you have writing experience – do you write reviews, blog or perform at open mic nights?
  • Briefly mention qualifications if relevant to the subject matter being published – if you’re writing a space opera this might not be relevant, but if you’ve written about a computer virus and have a BSc in Computer Sciences and work in software development it’s very relevant;
  • Mention experience if relevant – give the editor or reader confidence you know your subject matter;
  • Think about the tone of your biography – if you write comedy a jokey tone might fit but if you want to convey professionalism, keep it brief, relevant and to the point;
  • Consider your reader – a biography with a submission needs to be focused on your writing and experience relevant to your submission, a biography for a magazine may have to follow an in-house format, a biography for a reader can be less formal;
  • If asked for a photograph, send a head and shoulders portrait that can be reduced to thumbnail size and works in colour or monochrome, unless the publication specifies otherwise.

Don’t

  • Insist your biography cannot be edited – editors do not have to accept your biography and may have to edit it to fit on a page so don’t make it easier for an editor to leave your biography out;
  • Think a long list of publication credits is OK – you are more than just your previous publications;
  • Send 100 words if the requirement is 50 – editors don’t have time to edit your biography so get it right or get it rejected;
  • Feel obliged to mention when or where you were born if you don’t feel it relevant – “Joe Bloggs was born in 19xx in the Midlands” eats into a word limit and isn’t actually that interesting. If you share a birthday with a celebrity or relevant historical figure or were born, lived in or worked in the place where your story is set, mention it;
  • Have a standard biography you use for everything – tailor your biography for the publication, just as you would tailor your CV or résumé for the job for which you’re applying. If you have a succession of magazine publications, it gets boring reading exactly the same biography each time;
  • Submit a photo if not asked for one;
  • Forget to include a blog or website address so an interested reader can find out more about you and your work, but don’t expect a busy editor to click through and read your biography from a website, include relevant details as well;
  • Forget to proof-read.

The usual word limit for a biography is 50 words. Can you succinctly mention relevant publishing credits, writing experience and say something interesting about yourself in 50 words or less?

By

Writers need to Read and Get Out More

Let’s take two people who have decided to become writers and, for sake of convenience, let’s call them A and B.

Wannabee writer A writes poetry, attends the local open mic night and is often seen on the periphery of local literary events, networking with organisers, literature development networkers and arts administrators.  Writer A’s bookshelves are crammed with how-to write and other books on creative writing techniques along with writers’ autobiographies, but there are no poetry collections, no novels, no short story collections.  Writer A’s poetry is entirely written in first person, set in a contemporary urban landscape and often about writing or failing to write.  At the open mic events writer A rehearses reading their own poems and, if you asked, couldn’t tell you who else read.  Writer A never shies away from approach other writers asking for feedback, however, it’s rarely given because other writers notice that writer A never buys a copy of their book and never asks about them or thanks them for reading.  Stuck on a bus, Writer A notices an elderly man is talking apparently to himself.  Writer A suddenly finds an article in the free newspaper incredibly interesting.  Writer A self-publishes a poetry collection and sends it off for review.

Wannabee writer B also writes poetry and joins a couple of local writing groups workshopping their own writing and giving feedback on writing by other group members.  Writer B’s bookshelves are crammed with an eclectic mix of poetry collections, novels and short story collections.  There are no how to write books.  Writer B also uses first person when writing poems but adopts different personas, experiments with writing in different historical periods as well as contemporary times, can take a walk through urban or country landscapes and rarely writes about writing.  At open mic events writer B doesn’t always read and listens to other performers.  Writer B doesn’t shy away from asking for feedback but tries to buy a copy of the other writer’s book or at least thanks them for reading and makes a comment to show they were listening first.  Stuck on a bus, writer B notices an elderly man is talking apparently to himself.  Writer B leans forward to eavesdrop.  Writer B self-publishes a poetry pamphlet and sends it off for review.

You are that reviewer.  Which collection would you look forward to reviewing?

Without even looking at either of the hypothetical collections, I know Writer A’s collection would be introspective, technically well-executed but rather boring.  Writer B’s collection will be varied and will probably take risks, not all of which will pay off, but it won’t be a boring read.

Which writer are you?  What are your thoughts?

Related Articles:-

If you don’t have time to read, you’re not a writer 

How real life does poetry have to be?

You are not owed a reading by a professional writer

Resources for Writers

Having now written several articles on getting poems published, common faults in short stories, vanity presses, choosing writers’s groups, creative writing courses, etc, I’ve created a Resources for Writers page which lists all writing tips and advice articles with links to make them easier to find.

Please leave a comment if there’s a subject you’d like to see covered or an article I’ve not listed that you would like to see listed.

Creative Writing Courses – are they worthwhile?

The best way for a writer to learn is to read. Study books you enjoy to work out why they’re so enjoyable. Study books you didn’t like to learn why you didn’t like them. Apply both to your own writing. Learn also that writing is subjective: technically good work can be boring to read. Even if you never want to write poetry, read it: Edgar Allan Poe’s stories chill because he used poetic devices.

Why bother with a creative writing course if all you have to do is read?

• Creative writing courses can teach you the craft and technique of writing.
• Creative writing courses can help you learn where your weaknesses are and how to improve.
• Creative writing courses are an opportunity to meet other writers, swap ideas and anxieties.
• Creative writing courses are a short cut to experience. Most writers get their experience through reading, writing, submitting and learning from mistakes. Here you have the chance to learn from other’s mistakes and gain from the tutors’ insights.

What creative writing courses can’t do:

• Teach you to write. You can learn all about technique and craft, just as a tone deaf person can read music and learn how to play an instrument, but, just as that tone deaf person will never develop as a musician, you will never develop as a writer if there is no underlying talent for writing. Not everyone is equipped to write their own life story. But discovering you can’t be a writer gives you chance to develop the talents you do have.
• Write your work for you. You may come away from a novel masterclass buzzing with solutions to your latest plot and/or characterisation problems, but once that buzz has fizzled out, you still have an unfinished novel to complete.

Are creative writing courses right for you? Consider how you best learn:

• You like academic environments and learn well in a one tutor to many students set up – try creative writing courses.
• You prefer to read a book or manual – Stephen King’s “On Writing” is a brilliant place to start and there are many “How to” books around.
• You like learning in a group but don’t like a formal tutor and student structure – join a writers’ group or on-line forum (or more than one) where you can give and get constructive criticism and still learn from others’ mistakes and gain from others’ insights.
• You prefer one to one learning – find a mentor, but remember writers are busy people and a good writer isn’t necessarily a good mentor.

How do you pick a good course? Consider what you want from a course:

• Inspiration’s hit a dry patch, you want ideas to kick start writing – try a one day or one-off workshop or course as these are often a quick introduction to how to write a poem or story and you usually get the chance to write from ideas suggested by the tutor.
• You’ve started writing but want to learn more about technique and craft – explore longer courses at local or on-line colleges, these may run from six weeks to a full academic year and are often led by writers.
• You’re working on a longer piece or collating a collection of poems and want space to write alongside guidance – try a writers’ retreat or a course where you stay on campus, such as the Arvon Foundation courses.
• You want an in-depth study of writing, techniques, criticism and development – explore universities offering further study in creative writing often leading to a further qualification such as an MA.

Once you’ve decided which type of course is best: research.

• Do you know who the tutors are? Do they have teaching experience?
• Has the course run before and has it had good feedback?
• What are the aims of the course and do they fit with what you want to achieve? Check whether the course is aimed at beginners or writers with some experience and publishing credits.
• What are you expected to bring to the course? Not just in terms of writing materials but are you expected to comment on others’ work, are you expected to bring a work-in-progress or are you expected to write new piece(s) during the course?
• How is the course structured? Do you work alone or are you expected to work as part of a group, does this suit you? How much feedback is offered, is it feedback from the group or in one to one sessions with the tutors and which suits you?
• Do you like the environment? A writers’ retreat in a warm Mediterranean country may sound just right but if you’re self-catering and can’t speak the local language, would you see that as a chance to learn or a barrier to learn?

Creative writing courses don’t suit everyone but a bit of research beforehand can help ensure that if you do decide to take a course, you find one that suits you and offers maximum benefits for you.

Related Articles:

Five Tips on Choosing a Writers’ Group

How to take Criticism at a Writers’ Group

Six tips for finding time to write

If you want your writing to be published, accept rejections

 

Thanks to Meg Gardiner for posting on this topic.  She’s right: rejections don’t stop just because you’re published.  There’s no magic “yes, I’ve got my novel or poetry collection accepted so I won’t have to deal with rejections ever again” moment.  Rejections don’t stop. 

Rejections will only stop if you stop sending submissions to editors and when you stop doing that, you stop being a writer.

Acceptances are so dependent on a combination of factors: the right manuscript landing on the right editor’s desk when the editor’s looking for a manuscript just like that, is in the mood to read submissions thoroughly and recognises that the manuscript they are reading is the perfect fit, ie such a narrow window of opportunity, it’s a wonder acceptances happen at all.  But even an acceptance doesn’t guarantee publication.  Editors move on, their replacement may decide not to go ahead with publication, a new priority is set turning acceptance to rejection or magazines and publishers go under meaning publication won’t happen.  There’s more to getting published than an acceptance letter, contract and waiting for publication.

Writers at any and all stages of their career have to accept rejections.  Whilst acceptances that do turn into publication are always very welcome, rejections aren’t always bad news:

·        Rejections aren’t personal: you aren’t being rejected, just that particular piece by that particular editor.

·        Rejections aren’t always a reflection on the standard of your writing, often they’re down to lack of space, prior acceptance of a similar piece or an incoming editor clearing an outgoing editor’s in-tray.

·        Rejections stop writers becoming lazy.  Doesn’t matter where you are in your writing career, every submission should be to a professional standard.

 

Doesn’t make rejections easier to take, although they can be reduced.  Research your markets: only submit work to editors who are likely to be interested in your work, check submission guidelines and submit your work in the right format and during the reading period (where applicable).  A magazine that focuses on experimental poetry is never going to take your traditional sonnet no matter how good a sonnet it is.  If a magazine only takes postal submissions, don’t submit via email.  If an editor asks for names not to appear on submitted work, take your name off and submit a covering letter or sheet with a list of titles and your contact details.  If a magazine states it has a reading period of May to September, don’t submit in April – you won’t be first in the reading queue, you’ll be automatically rejected.  If the guidelines state that you have to wait a year after an acceptance before submitting again, wait a year – it may be tempting to re-try an editor who has already accepted a poem, but you’ll be automatically rejected for not following guidelines if you don’t wait.  If an editor asks for email submissions as an attachment, don’t paste your poems into the body of the email and note what format the attachment should be in (if in doubt use .rtf). 

 

For a writer, a submission is like a job application and should be treated as such.  Just like job applications, where the recruiter often reads them looking for reasons to reject such as miss-spelt words, bad grammar, coffee stains, crumpled paper and a general unprofessional approach because they have one vacancy and over 50 applicants; so editors overwhelmed with submissions will look for a reason to reject you.  Don’t give them one.

Whilst you need to keep a record or what you’ve sent where (to avoid simultaneous submissions and prevent sending a published piece to an editor who will only consider unpublished work), you don’t need to keep rejection slips.  If an editor’s taken the trouble to scrawl a comment, note the comment and put it aside to read later.  Recycle all rejection slips (they make useful cat litter tray lining).  If there’s no comment, assume your work was simply not on the right editor’s desk at the right time and send it elsewhere. 

Do keep all you acceptance letters, positive comments and feedback in a handy place and refer to them frequently, especially when rejections pile up.

Related Articles:

How do you choose a poetry magazine to submit your poems

Six tips for finding time to write

Don’t go to vanity presses

How do you choose a poetry magazine to submit your poems

You’ve polished off your poems, run them past a trusted reader (ie someone who will criticise and not just unconditionally tell you “they’re brilliant”) or writers’ group, double-checked your files for typos and are ready to send your poems to editors.  But there are plenty of poetry magazines out there (Carrie Etter has kindly listed some American poetry magazines), how do you choose?

 

1.   Buy (or borrow) a copy of the magazine.  If you like it, subscribe.  Poetry magazines desperately need subscribers as subscriptions are often their only income.  Check the contents – what sort of poems does it publish?   Would you poems fit alongside what it publishes?

2.   Keep a list/database of magazines with editor’s name, address, and type of poems published, where you think your poems would fit.  There’s no point in sending your carefully crafted sonnets to a magazine that only publishes experimental poetry as you’ll be wasting your postage and the editor’s time.

3.   When you have list of poetry magazines your poems stand a good chance of getting published in, check the websites or magazine for any submission guidelines.  Some magazines operate reading periods and sending poems outside the reading period means the poem will be returned unread.  Some magazines will accept email submissions, some have an on-line form and some will only accept postal submissions.

4.   Decide which poems you want to send to which magazine.  Unless the submission guidelines say otherwise, send three to six poems to each magazine.  There’s no need to keep to a theme or to send only sonnets, but if you’re sending a seasonal poem, send it at least six months ahead of the season (ie send a summer poem in winter) as editors plan ahead and poetry magazines usually publish quarterly.

5.   Keep a record.  Generally magazine editors do not like simultaneous submissions (ie where one poem is sent to more than one editor) as they prefer original, unpublished content.  Try and avoid sending a favoured poem to more than one magazine at any one time.

6.   Prepare a covering letter offering the poems for consideration.  Use the covering letter in the body of an email if sending by email.  It’s not necessary to list poetry publishing credits or competition placing within the covering letter, but consider adding one or two particularly worthy acceptances.  Do not send a brief biography unless specifically requested in the submission guidelines.

7.   Send the covering letter with the poems and a stamped self-addressed envelope (SSAE) which has sufficient postage for the editor to return the poems.  If posting abroad, use sufficient international reply coupons or state that you are sending a disposable manuscript and send an email address as well.  Each poem should be sent on a separate sheet of paper with your name and address on each sheet so that, if the sheets become separated, the editor can still trace the poet.

8.   Wait.  Editors are generally snowed under with submissions and are often editing around jobs, family commitments and their own writing.  Six months is not an unusual waiting time.

 

Keep writing in the meantime.  The more poems you submit, the higher your chances of getting published.

Related Articles

Five tips on choosing a writers’ group

How to take criticism at a writers’ group

Ready to self-publish your poetry?

Why do people Want to be Poets?

It’s a lousy job: you obsess and angst over getting the right words into the right rhythmic order, only have the narrowest chances of publication and can expect to earn nothing, having to fit being a Poet around day jobs and family.  So why do people want to do it?

Seamus Heaney, awarded the Nobel Literature Prize for his poetry, in an interview with Dennis O’Driscoll suggests:

In poetry in particular, an ancient or sacred art, the word ‘poet’ still has an aura – that’s why people want it so much.

Helena Nelson in Chapter 3 of the Happenstance Story suggests,

Increasingly, I meet people who are happy to volunteer the information that they write poetry.  They introduce me to friends of their who also write poetry.  They don’t seem to read much poetry, apart from their own.  They don’t seem to know much about poetry, except their own.

Helena Nelson continues,

There seems to be a kind of confusion between writing poetry and Being a Poet.  The laudable attempts to make poetry more popular in sane, poetry-hating classrooms have somehow contributed to the idea that, against all the odds, Being a Poet confers celebrity status.

I’m inclined to agree.  There’s a huge difference between writing poetry and Being a Poet.  You can spot the Poets a mile off: they’re not writing! What do you think?  The real writers of poetry are too busy writing.

Related Articles:

Types of Writers

Six Tips for Finding Time to Write

When Can I Call Myself a Writer?

Guidelines for a Successful Writers’ Group

No matter how informal your writers’ group, it’s useful to have a framework that outlines the aims of the group and accepted behaviour within the group.  The guidelines listed below are not prescriptive and can be adapted to suit. 

Workshops

Workshops generally consist of a writer either reading a piece of work to a group, handing out copies of a piece of work to a group or both and receiving feedback and constructive criticism.  Establish how this going to happen beforehand. 

Some groups like work to be distributed the meeting beforehand so members can read, re-read, think round the piece and write notes.  The advantage is members can familiarise themselves with the work beforehand.  The disadvantage is that notes get lost, some members won’t attend the feedback session and other members won’t have been at the meeting where the work was distributed.  Writers have to be prepared and able to bring extra copies of their work.

Other groups don’t pre-distribute but distribute on the night.  The advantage is that notes don’t get lost.  The disadvantage is that the criticism may not be so robust as there’s less time for members to get a feel for the work.

Some groups don’t distribute copies of the work but expect the writer to read aloud in front of the group.  This requires other members to have the discipline to listen and writers to be able to read (using a venue that has a microphone and/or hearing loop helps).  The criticism here won’t be very detailed, but will be sufficient for professional/semi-professional groups where the work is very much polished and edited before being read to the group.  The advantage is that much less paper is wasted.

Consider needs within the group.  If your group doesn’t distribute copies but expects the writer to read, you need may need to distribute copies to members who are hard of hearing.  If a writer doesn’t want to read their work, have a mechanism where another member can read for them. 

Trust

Everyone is working to the same goal: to help members of the group produce the best writing possible.  There will be disagreement as to the best way of going about it, but writers need to feel that other members are not holding back or automatically focusing on the negative.

Commitment

All members of the group have to be prepared to read and comment on work by all other members.  A group won’t survive for long if some members always comment and some members rarely comment.  The imbalance will lead to resentment.  If someone expects others to comment on their work but does not comment on others’ work, seriously consider whether they have a place in the group at all. 

I have attended a workshop where not only was I chairing but I was the only one commenting on the poems produced as well.  When I finally got chance to have my poem criticised (mistakenly, I left mine until last), none of the other workshop members commented.  I never went back.

Respect and only allow Constructive Criticism

All members have to be treated with respect – comments must only be on the piece of work under consideration.  No personal comments or insults can be permitted.

All comments must be constructive.  That doesn’t mean you can’t say, “The second stanza doesn’t work”.  It does mean you have to say “The second stanza doesn’t work because….” and explain why and then make suggestions as to how it can be improved. 

Responding to Criticism

Don’t respond without taking the comments away and considering them.  If you’ve not understood a point made by another group member, ask for clarification, but don’t tell them they’ve missed the point completely.

Remember not all comments will be useful.  If one person didn’t like stanza two but others did, then stanza two is probably OK.  If several people didn’t like stanza two, then stanza two is a problem.  If you feel commenters have missed the point, then it may be you didn’t make the point very well.

Suggestions for Improvements are only Suggestions

You’ve given up an evening to make a really close reading of a poem, taken it apart and put it back together again but better.  You’ve given your reading of the poem to the poet and they’ve taken it away to give it careful consideration.  You see the poem published in a poetry magazine and the poet hasn’t incorporated all your suggestions…

Why should they?  It’s their poem, not yours.  No matter how strongly you feel that your suggestions were right, they were only suggestions.  The poet is under no obligation to incorporate all of them. 

Likewise, you are under no obligation to incorporate all the comments you receive on your work.  If you really feel that strongly about your comments, go and re-write the poem yourself, but keep it in a notebook.

Confidentiality

Keep comments about the group within the group.  Keep comments about work-in-progress within the group. Or at least keep members anonymous and take the serial numbers off the work if you think that something might make an amusing blog entry or usefully illustrate a point during another workshop so that none of the group members recognise themselves or their work.

Published Work

Establish whether your group will consider published work.  A full-length book (non fiction or novel) is very unlikely to be re-written in between re-prints.  However, a poem may have several outings before it gets into a published collection.  It may be read at an open-mic event, it may get published in a poetry magazine, it may another outing at a reading, it may be published on a blog before being collected.  A poet may well wish for comments for improving a poem that has been published but has not been collected into a book yet, but some group members may feel they are wasting their time commenting on a published work.

Appoint a Chair

It doesn’t have to be the same person each meeting, but ensure someone is appointed to keep an eye on the time and decide which pieces of work are considered in what order.

Of course it’s useful to have some sub-rules here about how the order is established – chair picks at random, members write their names down and that establishes order, etc – and how the chair selects whose comments are heard when.  Equally members have to respect the chair, not waffle, not repeat comments already made, not talk when someone is reading aloud/commenting and get back from any breaks on time.

Publish the Guidelines

And ensure every member has access to a copy – either give a copy to every member or post them on a noticeboard/blog/website so that everyone attending the group knows how it works.