Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My Critique Group

My blog is dedicated to writers and encouragement and a place for me to write about things that I might not normally write about. It is a celebration of friendship and dedication to the art of writing.
I have been in the same critique group for about fifteen years. Another member has been in the group for almost as long as I have.
Across that decade-and-a-half, we’ve seen a lot of people come and go. At times we had so many members we couldn’t get through all our work in one night. Then there have been times we have had so few that we turned to our friends who taught writing classes for aspiring writers to “audition” as new members.
Currently we number eight--all dedicated to their art and all very good at what they do. Only two of us have ever been published in more than really small-time forms. One is a retired journalist and the other is a multi-talented writer who has published three Western Historical books since he has been in our group. All of us have the potential for publication, and I think all will eventually be published. It comes to all of us if we work hard enough and stick with it long enough.
Were it not for this group, I would have given up long ago. We are really tough on each other. One of our mentors calls us (to my chagrin) hard core, ruthless, no-holds-barred. That has scared off a lot of people, but I don’t mind. Writing for publication is hard. Persistence is the key. I don’t want to be working around people who are not interested in getting published and willing to hang in there, sometimes by the tips of their ragged, bitten fingernails, to succeed.
I believe that it is never too late to get published. Agatha Christie was nearly forty when she was published for the first time. Grandma Moses was in her eighties when she started painting. Painting and writing may sound like apples and oranges, but they are both creative forms of expression and their creators are at the whim of not only public opinion but also of critics and publishers. And both fields are very difficult to break into.
I once heard it said that you could not be a good writer until you reached at least forty. Several of the best-selling writers of today were in their mid-thirties when they first got published. Perhaps they had already lived a lot of life before that. And I’ve known many people much younger than that who are marvelous writers. But I do think that there is a lot to be said for having lived a certain amount of life all the same before you can write from a base of knowledge and from a larger wealth of emotion.
Life has given me many ups and downs since I started with this group. My children have grown up and either gotten married, had children or joined the Navy and left the nest. Many of the other writers in my group have been through similar experiences in that time.
I’d have to say that we are close in a way that I can’t be close to other people in my life. We share something that cannot be explained outside the realm of the creative world. But we have been able to maintain our objectivity when it comes to our individual work. It is separate from the friendships that I share with these people. We don’t write with the thought of how will so-and-so like this bit or will I be rejected by what’s-her-lips for this. We write what we feel, what we have to write. We write what’s in our hearts and our souls and we take the knocks that the others in the group dish out to us. We know that while they may not love every word that we write or even understand why we feel we have to write what we do, when they take it apart and put it back together, their goal is to make a stronger piece of work.
Sometimes we go away upset that they didn’t understand what we did with a piece. Later, when we’ve had a chance to look at it through more objective eyes, sometimes we decide they were right. Sometimes it still seems they just didn’t get it. But the diversity of our styles of writing, our personal experiences and knowledge can come together with the perfect formula. We have to remain objective, we have to keep each other honest about our work, and we can force each other to produce something better and better all the time.
I could go on for ages about my critique group and the friendships that have been forged there. But it wouldn’t mean much to anyone but us.

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