Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A question of integrity - or not

At a local writing group I attended last Sunday the question was raised about the integrity of entering work in a competition after it had been critiqued by a number of other people – the question being at what stage did a story move from being a sole effort to one of collaboration. The person who posed the question was not asking from a position of ‘sour grapes’, as she neither wrote for nor entered competitions, so I accepted her concern as genuine.

As the founder of a critiquing  group (and as a member of many writer’s groups over many years)  where the focus has always been on assisting the writer further develop their skill, I have openly encouraged beginning writers to present their work for critique prior to submitting anywhere (be it competition or publication). The purpose of this was to ensure their work was at its polished best; to optimise their chance of having their work accepted. I saw this as an integral function of the group.

Alternatively, I have seen some stories presented in their rawest, most grammatically incorrect form – little more than a concept thrown on the page - and watched them over a period of critique sessions, and with the input of half a dozen other writers, transform into a well-shaped, fine piece of writing. I never gave a thought as to whether these stories might then be entered into a competition and the question of integrity in this regard never arose.

These were my thoughts as I attempted to respond to her question, as several of my own arose from her single one, so I’m asking for opinions on the following:
  1. Would it be a more appropriate to submit a group -worked story to competitions or publications where entries are invited from collaborative efforts of writers rather than an individual?

  2. If a writer pens the original concept, does that make them the sole author, despite input on grammar and syntax from others?

  3. As writing competitions are judged on a number of elements, not the least being use of language and punctuation, and if the story has been critiqued and structurally edited by a series of writers, is it ethical for it to be submitted as the work of one writer? 

Please help with this one – it would be much appreciated. ~Merlene 


  1. Tricky! To me a lot depends on what the writer has actually learned, and is able to reliably repeat from the group experience. If all they have is one polished piece of writing, it really is a group effort. However, if they have gained in actual skill, and that piece of writing acurately represents the quality that they can consistently produce unaided, then I think "fair enough". My opinion only...

  2. This makes good sense and thank you Peter for taking the time to respond.

  3. Mate - it's the difference between editing and composition... the grammar ain't what you copyright...

    It's not a collaboration - to me - if you simply help someone realise their vision of a piece.

    Do you want to put money on most of the great poets re-editing after discussions with their peers?

  4. I think the 'refined' writing could quite legitimately be entered as the author's own work if the refining is simply a matter of honing the craft of writing. The original inspiration is the heart of the writing, surely?

  5. Thanks for the comments, which I will pass on when I see her next. I don't think she was referring to copyright per se as much as something that has been extensively workshoppped by a number of people, therefore undergoing structural change as well as corrections to grammar and punctuation, and then entered in a literary competition to be judged on for its composition and correctness. I suppose the difference lies between a perception of refined writing, which doesn't alter the structure to any degree, and turning a concept into a publishable piece of writing.

  6. Sorry, Merlene, I didn't choose 'an identity' so I think my initial comments may have been lost in the ether. So I'll re-comment here...

    The question of submitting work that has been commented on by a series of other people and whether its integrity is lost because of this, is a poser...

    In my opinion, the end product still remains the property of the author whose name appears with it (not 'on it' if it is for a competition)...

    If you consider a critique-group, whereby a number of people offer their varied opinions, whether it be an oral opinion or a written opinion, it is not necessarily something that the writer will take up and use... I have seen some clangers that have been commented on and suggestions made for change, with the author choosing not to heed the advice and, in one particular case I recall, the self-publishing went ahead, mistake and all... Not a good look...

    But as for a competition entry being critiqued by others at the request of the writer, I can't really see a difficulty, because the finished work has to be that of the writer.

    Imagine if you were someone having difficulty with the English language. What would happen in this case. Would it be valid to call upon others to help with refining the work, but yet retain the original concept and integrity of it?

    If a book were to be published, then all sorts of people become involved in the commentary, from family members and friends giving their various opinions, to proof readers, sub editors, editors etc., with work on occasions altered without a by-your-leave, yet the author's name remains intact, regardless of the 'assistance' along the way...

    Only a pedant would regard any of the above as being 'published', for that's what it is once a work goes out into the wider arena - before it is 'printed'.

    And further, in terms of critiquing, writers can learn so much from others' writing by being involved in a critique group, even if it's simply by sharing and not necessarily having their own work commented upon... We all make choices of whose writing we most admire in terms of quality and readability, but not necessarily to emulate but aspire to. It is important to retain your 'own voice'... Be recognised for yourself...

    In conclusion, get writing, listen to what others have to say. Accept what you consider applies to you - and send the entry off... Cheers... Rose

  7. Thank you Rose, for your in-depth comment. I imagine your reply and others will result in lively discussion at the next meeting about this topic and the different levels of critiquing used by different writing groups.


For some reason I'm yet to fathom I'm unable to reply to comments left by others so thank you for dropping by and taking the time to read and comment. Merlene