From May to September 2022, SCBWI Japan ran a YA/MG novel revision workshop. Ten writers signed up, and committed to providing a full draft for peer feedback by June 30. We were then placed in small groups of 3 or 4 to read and critique the work of our group members. The deadline for sending feedback was August 15. At that point participants read the comments and had the option of putting together a Creative Revision plan. They could provide a revised excerpt for further critique if they wished. On September 10, the participants came together in an online workshop to discuss their reactions to the feedback they received.
SCBWI Japan members, September 2022, discussing YA/MG Novel revisions
Submitting your work for critique by a group of fellow writers is an invaluable opportunity, but also a daunting prospect. Equally daunting is being tasked with providing constructive feedback on the work of a stranger. Thankfully SCBWI Japan’s Holly Thompson and Mariko Nagai provided all participants with sage advice on how to keep feedback constructive. Helpful suggestions on what to focus on and how to word comments provided the writer-critics with the necessary tools to help group members read and comment effectively. It also allowed for similarity in approach and practice, so everyone felt reassured that their novels would be treated with respect, and their comments would be taken as well-intentioned.
My own MG group included a novel in translation, a story about a young girl on a fantastic journey through a dreamscape, and a tale about the chaotic combination of magic and bureaucracy that was presented as a project proposal rather than a novel. As a critic, I enjoyed engaging with the works-in-progress and identifying areas where I might help the project move forward. As a writer, the comments I received from readers coming to my work cold were very insightful. Having received some feedback already on this novel, it was useful to see where the SCBWI readers echoed previous feedback, and also what new areas they identified as worthy of commentary. Those comments included both praise and criticism, so the workshop told me both what is working well and hooks an audience, and what needs further work.
During the Zoom workshop on September 10, participants commented on the feedback they received, and discussed exactly how they planned to advance their novel. I could not take part in real time, but the session was recorded and it was wonderful to see the writers in the (virtual) flesh and hear them talk about their projects. As we all know, writing is re-writing. Being part of a community of peers facing the same challenges, and having the opportunity to talk about those issues, helps oil the re-writing mechanism.
SCBWI Japan will host more novel revision workshops in the future. I strongly recommend members working on novels to seize this opportunity to receive constructive criticism of their work. You can also find out more about this event from a translator’s point of view by checking out Andrew Wong’s post on the SCBWI Japan Translation Group Blog.
Alec McAulay is a writer, educator and filmmaker. He writes MG novels and picture books. Originally from Glasgow, Scotland, he now lives in Yokohama.