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Manuscript Discussion: Reading & Responding

Guidelines: Responding to Manuscripts

The most valuable and effective response we can give to early draft writing (writing in the process of becoming a publishable manuscript) is to be an attentive and sensitive reader. At this stage in the writing process, the writer needs to know and understand how the text affects a reader.

First, read as a reader  
A good reader is someone who enters the text fully, emotionally, intellectually and with great sympathy for anyone who has the courage to put words on paper.  Good readers notice and record their experience of reading a text without judgment or trying to fix it. When a writers are given a reader’s in-depth experience of a text, then a writer can take that knowledge and use it, or not, as the writer chooses.

Our role is not to be a critic or an editor. A critic is an evaluator and judge whose role is to place value on texts, to serve as a guide to readers. Nor are we editors whose role is to correct, improve or fix a text.  We give the gift of being the very best readers of one another’s writing as we can possibly be.

Read without a pen or pencil in hand. Read the complete manuscript (or as much as workshop members have committed to reading) before making any written responses or notations in the margins.

Note Your Reading Experience
Note the strengths of the manuscript and those places in the text (manuscript) where as reader you are moved, surprised, excited, saddened, laughed, etc. Point to language, images, actions, etc that stay with you after reading the text (manuscript).

Also note of the following:

•    how the writing moves you, makes you feel, think or experience the world
•    where you are drawn in, step into the piece, live in its world
•    where you are pushed out of the text and do not stay with its action, characters, etc
•    where you have questions or need more information
•    the authenticity and honesty of voice and language, especially in use of dialogue
•    identification with characters, situations, ideas, etc (be careful to use “I” statements)
•    imagery, metaphor if it is present, it need not be
•    music of the language: alliteration, assonance, rhyme, meter, etc
•    if poetry: impact of appearance of poem on page, line breaks, etc

Suggestions:
Help the writer to re-see the text (manuscript). Make suggestions to the writer that would strengthen your reading experience of the text (manuscript).

This is not an editorial reading. Only note grammar or mechanical issues where they interfere with your ability to understand or appreciate the text (manuscript), where you are pushed out, or your reading of the text (manuscript) is disrupted. If you observe a pattern of grammar or mechanical issues, point to 1 or 2 examples, then in your summary describe the pattern you observe. Leave it to the writer to do edits.

Summarize your reading experience. Keep summary brief, 3-5 statements.

Finally, sign your name to your comments. Bring manuscript to workshop and return to writer once in-workshop discussion is completed.
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Manuscript Discussion in Workshop

I. We begin by reading manuscript quietly to ourselves.

II. The manuscript is read aloud – twice. We hear it first in the voice of a reader other than the writer, then we hear the words in the voice of the writer.  Listen to both readers carefully -- note where a reader hesitates, falters, or stumbles.

III. There are three (3) rounds of response and commentary. During first two (2) rounds, the writer does not participate. The writer listens, takes notes, etc.

Round I: We follow wVw practice and respond by telling the writer:
•    what is strong,
•    what moved you,
•    what pulled you into the text and kept you there, etc.

Be careful not to include responses, in this round, that begin with or include:
•    I would like to know more
•    I am curious about
•    I question
•    This reminds me of (either personal stories or references to other writers/writing).

Round II: Now is the time to make inquiries of the writing (see above). This is your time to let writer know:
•    what did not work for you as a reader,
•    what you pushed you out of the text,
•    what left you wanting more and
•    questions about consistency, characters and their motivation, suspense/anticipation, imagery/metaphor, paragraphs/stanzas, sentence structure/line breaks, etc.

Round III: Full group discussion – The writer joins discussion. Writer responds to what has been said about manuscript – answers questions, elaborates on text, or raises questions that may not have been addressed.

IV. Return manuscripts - All manuscripts with notes, comments and signature of reader are returned to the writer.
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