One of the foundational reasons for Round Table Writers is the betterment of humanity. A lofty goal for a writer's group? Not at all, say we: writing is one of the most powerful tools for constructing our reality. With words, we can change worlds. The Academy, in its current form, is a invite-only peer-to-peer critique group organized through our Discord server. Trusted members may share their work and critique the work of others, all in a spirit of friendly betterment.
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Introduction to the Academy
“Inklings followed a simple structure, and their opening ritual was always the same. When half a dozen members had arrived, Warren Lewis would produce a pot of very strong tea, the men would light their pipes, and C. S. Lewis would call out, “Well, has nobody got anything to read us?” Then “out would come a manuscript,” and they would “settle down to sit in judgement upon it.” - Diana Pavlac Glyer, Bandersnatch: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings
Layout of the Academy
The Academy is split into two main sections. The Academy Entrance Hall is a place where any member of RTW can ask questions, post something they hope others will read, or comment on the work others have posted there. All the following guidelines still apply, but this area is essentially public (to anyone who has joined the group).
Critiques in the Entrance Hall are liable to be shorter, simpler, and might come in the form of a simple letter of response rather than any sort of detailed critique or line-by-line edit.
The other part of the Academy is invite-only and allows for a deeper level of dialogue. Only members of higher rank will be able to see these posts, making the work submitted at this level essentially private (or at least limited in visibility). There, we have three areas:
Writing Critiques: Where critiques are requested and provided. Not a discussion zone, save for specific comments on something related to a submission. Generally, critiques at this level should go deeper, include both a letter and some form of line-edit and should generally be more comprehensive than what is expected in the Entrance Hall.
Writer Lessons: This section is for advanced workshops and seminar sessions provided by various higher-ranking members for higher-ranking members. Interested in giving some sort of talk, or holding a workshop specifically for the more advanced members of the group? Post it here. Note: You can hold mini-workshops and the like in the public parts of the forum as well, just note that then anyone can participate. Sometimes that's what we want, sometimes it's not.
Academy Library: This is a place where special resources can be posted and maintained, or where research support can be requested from other high-ranking members.
What we do and how we do it
The primary goal of the Academy is to make better writers of our members. We critique, we copy edit, we explore the larger structural and thematic concepts of the pieces posted for workshopping. One of the things that makes a writer's writing better, too, is the broadening of their philosophical mind, their ability to introspect and explore their beliefs self-reflexively. The more are of ourselves, as writers, that we can be, the more we will be able to improve our writing.
To better our writing we must better ourselves
While the group as a whole primarily concentrates on those aspects typically found within writing workshopping groups, the emphasis remains on an active philosophical exploration of ourselves and the reasons why we are writing.
Formatting of submissions
Stick to standard manuscript format as exampled by William Shunn in Modern Manuscript Format. You do not need to include contact information, but your name should appear in the upper left.
Double spacing, Times New Roman, proper indentations, the works. We will be increasingly strict in this regard and will eventually remove, out of hand, submissions to the Academy which do not follow proper formatting.
If you're writing something which intentionally breaks this formatting, please let us know as part of your preface to the piece.
Asking for critiques
Make sure to let people know if you have areas you'd like them to focus on and if you'd like softer or harder critiques. This can help the person commenting know what will best support you.
Post a copy of your piece either as a Word (.docx) attachment in the #writing-critiques channel, or as a link to a Google Document.
The person offering critiques will make their own copy of this, add their comments/edits, and post as a fresh document.
In your accompanying post, mention what the piece is, what you'd like to do with it, what it means to you, and what you think you'd like people to focus on most (be aware that asking for that is merely a guideline. Editors can focus on whatever they want).
Be polite and friendly! This isn't a "service" but an aspect of community building.
Reposting a piece that's already been critiqued?
Don't repost the same piece for critique immediately after it's been critiqued. Wait until at least two people have offered critiques before reposting -- and then only repost if you've done extensive edits.
In your initial post for a reposted piece, make sure to note that it was already critiqued (it's good form to thank the people who offered those) and highlight some of what you've changed, briefly.
We prefer variations on the Milford Method of critiquing, one popularly found within pop-fiction critique circles. While we can't actually do the critique in the Round, we can stick to a couple of pointers.
Avoid direct comments to the author. Don't use "you should do this." Use "this works for me because," or "this does not work for me because...." If a comment needs to be made about the author, try to neutralize it by using "the author" instead of "you."
Ultimately, every comment, every line edit, should exist for these purposes:
To help the writer improve their piece.
To help the writer improve their writing ability as a whole.
To build community
If the author requests a specific level of intensity in their initial request for a critique, pay attention to that as well. Normally, "go easy if they need it, hard if they ask for it".
Sometimes work submitted will require a more intense response than the author requested:
If they are writing something which pushes the lines of community rules or good taste
Differences in personality and norms are to be expected, and we allow a broad range of work to be posted, from horror to erotica... but there are a number of things which are generally unacceptable. If a critiquer encounters work which they feel violates community guidelines or shows that the writer is somehow dangerous to themselves or others, it is vital that the administration of RTW be notified immediately.
Hopefully, problematic work can often be addressed by noting it in a critique and simply bringing a writers attention to it. We try to operate on good faith here for the first such issue to arise. Be aware that we expect dramatic improvement and will not allow writers who consistently post work which damage community cohesion to remain with RTW.
It is good form, for a writer who posts work which causes upset, to post a small apology to the group (and, likewise, good form for members of the group to accept such an apology).
If they are consistently submitting work which contains errors commented on by critiquers in the past
This last is important because if someone is consistently not improving in something they've been made aware of, they are either not understanding the critique or they're not sure of how to fix the issue. This probably requires a deeper or different critique style. In some rare cases, writers can be obstinate when it comes to their work, too, and in these cases they need to either come to terms with the fact that there's a problem or else they will lose their privileges of submitting work to the Academy.
Always acknowledge when someone offers a critique. It's not acceptable to not respond to critiques because our primary aspect here is a community. If you reach out for a critique, please be prepared to acknowledge receipt!
Undergoing critique can be an emotional process, but it's important to trust that all critiques are being given in the spirit of mutual betterment and compassion.
When you receive a critique understand that it is a chance for you to improve yourself and your work. Even should a critique be uncomfortable or should miss the mark in some way, always accept it graciously as an opportunity to better yourself. We learn and grow by having our work critiqued, we delve deeply by having peers and elders point the way. Even if their suggestions, in themselves, are not what we ultimately choose to follow, their insights can help awake new perspectives within ourselves.
When the Inklings met, they would deeply critique, quite harshly, each other's work. While RTW strives for a more even and compassionate approach to critiques, we will ultimately provide critiques based on:
What the writer needs to hear
What struck us as most important
What seems most vital about the piece at hand
Sometimes these critiques will end up being quite intense and sharp, this is why it's so important to recognize that any critiques received are an opportunity for us to learn and grow. Never respond negatively to a critiquer. If a critiquer steps over the community guidelines in some way, bring that to the attention of the RTW admin.
Use the @ feature to publicly thank those who spent time on your work!
Remember to volunteer your own time to critiquing other's work. That's part of the community aspect.