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BACCA Writers

Critiques and the US Constitution

BACCA’s Origin Story

As described in another page in more detail, the writer group BACCA formed after four of us met in a fiction class at WriterHouse in Charlottesville Virginia.

After the final class session, the four of us wanted to meet again for one more critique session. Then we realized that we all wanted to create an ongoing writer group.

That was ten years ago. Wow – it almost seems impossible that it’s been ten years, but there it is in my 2011 calendar – “writer critique swap” at noon on Saturday the 25th.

Evidence! Proto-BACCA’s first meeting in the author’s 2011 calendar.

We immediately adopted the critique guidelines that had served us well in our writing class. Later, when we created a website for our group – by then we had named ourselves BACCA – we asked permission from Prof. Luke Whisnant, whose guidelines we’d been using, to reproduce them on the website as a resource for other writers. He graciously consented.

At our (pre-pandemic) workshops and in personal emails, we often referred other writers to these guidelines – along with a bundle of other writer group resources.

Changes over Time

Our membership has changed over the years. We now include two founding BACCA writers, another who’s been with us for many years, and one who is a guest member for the duration of her book manuscript. Three other writers were with us for a time, over the years.

Naturally, because of the variety of writers and the passage of time, our critique process has evolved.

A few months ago, we decided to take extra time at our monthly critique session to focus on the guidelines, and see where they might need expanding or refocusing.

Why the Guidelines are Like the US Constitution

I was shocked, when I looked a few months ago at the Whisnant critique guidelines, to see how much I’d added on to them – in my mind. Turns out, the actual guidelines only addressed works of fiction intended for adults, for one thing. Our group has produced, read, and critiqued in many more categories than that.

Kind of the like US Constitution, the underlying document had accrued a lot of additional meaning to over the years. But when I casually suggested to a new writer that a look at the guidelines on the BACCA website was all they needed to get up to speed, I had forgotten that none of that extra stuff is actually written down.

A reproduction of the beginning of the US Constitution

The US Constitution is written down.

So we went to work and came up with modifications to address not just adult fiction but also narrative nonfiction (from Carolyn O’Neal), children’s fiction (from Pam Evans), and self-help / instructional manuscripts (from me, A M Carley).

In addition, we now have a wonderful preamble by Noelle Beverly who gives every writer a high-altitude view of the critique process. Her suggestions are thorough, generous, and deeply insightful. You may recall seeing Noelle’s blog post here about this recently, as well.

Amendments Take Time

Also like the US Constitution, making changes to the underlying document requires deliberation and careful thought. Our process is not as glacial as, say, passing the Equal Rights Amendment – waiting since 1972 – but it has taken us several months.

We’ve posted our ratified expanded critique guidelines to the BACCA website. [updated after original blog post]

We really hope that writers find them useful. As Noelle points out in her preamble, preparing critiques benefits the critiquer as well as the critiqued. It’s already been a great experience and opportunity for us to reflect on the key features of an excellent critique.

PS For a brilliant hour all about the importance of the US Constitution, I recommend What the Constitution Means to Me, written and performed by Heidi Schreck.

— A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, and is a founding member of BACCA. Her company, Chenille Books, (soon morphing into Anne Carley Creative) provides creative coaching and full-service editing to authors and other creative people. Decks of 52 FLOAT Cards for Writers are available from Baine’s Books in Scottsville and Appomattox, VA, at the Chenille Books website, and on Amazon. Anne’s writer handbook, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, is available for purchase at Central Virginia booksellers, at Bookshop.org, and on Amazon. A new workbook, The Becoming Unstuck Journal, is forthcoming, as are chapters in two books about journaling, one from Routledge late June 2021 and one from Mango in Fall 2021.