Several years ago, I asked my husband “What do you think?” regarding a segment of a book I was writing, An Agreeable Man. Instead of his opinion – a man’s opinion, which I desperately needed – I got this: “Why would you want to write about that?!!” (I realize that he’s an engineer and can write excellent reports, but he isn’t exactly gifted in the flights of fancy that I take when I write. Also he kept seeing himself in my description of the lead character which was devastating to his ego since the leading character was also the villain.)
This was the last straw after several months of finally being able to get back to writing this off-and-on again book. I knew there were areas that needed working on, but honestly I couldn’t see them. So I decided to look for and join a writers group.
The first one I found met in a library and there were several people there, a nice mix of ages, and a good ratio of men to women. I especially liked the fact that time would be allotted to read a snippet of our work in progress and that people would follow along on copies provided by each reader and write their comments in the margins. Instant feedback! Just what I needed…Until the copies of the RULES were handed out. Page after page after page of rules.
After attending a couple of times, a future meeting was cancelled because the two women who started the group were attending a Writer’s Conference – on behalf of our group. We were asked to donate to their travel expenses. They would come back and tell us all about it, they promised. Meanwhile, no meetings would be held until they got back. I declined to donate, but I did go to the next meeting. Information was exchanged between the two women with lots of insider jokes, rolling of eyes, nudging of elbows and other signs of a VERY good time – but sadly, nothing of value was shared with those of us who stayed behind.
When it came time to read my current work, I was last by (my) design. It was a poem about my mother and her declining health. I did not give out any copies. I knew it was good because I wrote it from the heart, and delivered it from the gut. Of the twelve writers there, none had dry eyes when I finished reading my work. When I stopped, there was silence – and then they clapped enthusiastically and asked me questions and cried some more. It was perfect, they said, no help needed. The two women asked if they could have a copy “for the records”, but I declined, especially since they had told us that the next event they would go to “representing us” would be a writing contest that had a $1500 prize, which no doubt would go to their “travel expenses.”
So I went next to a writers group that met in a bookstore. Again, a good mix of writer types; but also “again”, there were those “rules”. This time, the structure caused the group to divide in half, with some coming during the noon hour and some coming in the evening. The best thing about the group was the critique sheets, which we used to give feedback as each writer read his/her work.
I attended 3 or 4 meetings until one evening, the organizer of that group told us we would be participating in a writing exercise. She gave us a few particulars about a story idea and asked us to write the introductory paragraphs for it. We dashed these off and turned them in. Turns out, she, too, was going to enter the best one in a contest for which she would be paid.
So I left and went to my third – and last – writers group. This one met at a Starbucks. We had only 8 people, but they were feisty and opinionated! And kind. And just decent people. There wasn’t a Diva in the bunch! We listened to each other as we read our works, and noted our comments on copies provided by each other. Here’s an example of the kind of help I got:
In An Agreeable Man, I used as my opening sentence a sentence that I had carried around with me for years, handwritten on a small piece of paper. “On the way home from the funeral, Mrs. Evans stopped by the pet store and bought a puppy. She had been visiting the pet store every day on the way back from seeing Mr. Evans at the hospital.” Ten pages later, it was revealed that Mr. Evans died in his den, in his comfy chair, in front of the fireplace AT HOME! If there was no event sending Mr. Evans to the hospital, how could Mrs. Evans visit her husband there, much less pass by the pet store?
I never saw this discrepancy because I was too busy carefully crafting the next chapter where the central plot and characters of this thriller are laid out. (Beginner’s mistake…!) It didn’t take those writers two minutes to figure it out. And they all caught it immediately! And they all agreed that I would have to choose between my beloved opening sentence and the scene of the crime, both of which were necessary to the outcome of the storyline.
And the one thing they did NOT do was try to tell me how to do this. “You’ll figure it out,” they said. Oh, how I hated to leave that group! But our meeting place was jeopardized when the Starbucks had to move.
So listen: Is anyone out there willing to start up a writers group with me? It will be a Read Aloud and Critique Workshop. We will be each other’s audience as we read our works to each other. If you are interested, I will be glad to share some emails with you and maybe we can come up with something fun as well as something that helps us write and get published! (firstname.lastname@example.org) Are you in?