My critique group meets tonight, which officially makes this my favorite Wednesday of the month We are single/married/parents/grandparents/young/young-at-heart, fiction/non-fiction/article/ novel/poetry writers. Some of us have been critiquing one another's work for twenty years or more; others have been with the group less than five. We're respectful in a no-holds-barred kind of way; that's the beauty of growing together as writers.
Lately, our group has been having trouble getting together. Life circumstances, family obligations and crazy schedules have gutted our last few meetings. I'm always sad when that happens. When we don't meet, I miss not just the perspectives on writing this group provides, but the people as well. We've entrusted one another with one of our most personal possessions -- our words on the page -- and along the way, relationships have grown up around those words.
In some ways, this group is like the small groups I ran for my elementary school students. There's a camaraderie and a level of trust that develops as a result of sharing time and talent, publishing contracts and rejection letters, births and deaths and retirements. And though confidentiality is not mandated, it is, in many cases, assumed -- both for the words on the page and the events of our lives. Together, we have centuries of experience as readers and writers, and these common bonds connect us.
Some critique groups are genre-specific: all poets, all screen writers, all novelists. This group is not. Most of us have at least one longer work-in-progress -- usually fiction, but sometimes non-fiction -- among our monthly submissions, but they vary widely. Sometimes, I feel a little out of my league, as I sit, pen in hand, reading works that are outside the realm of what I'd choose off a bookstore shelf. Consequently, I sometimes critique more as a reader than a writer, marking both the spots that sing and those that trigger dissonance.
I know beyond any doubt that I owe my publishing contracts to this group. The books may have my name on them, but without this group, those books would be sitting on my hard drive, rather than gracing bookstore shelves and catalog pages. Without this group, I'd have found the editing process leading up to publication much more heartbreaking because I wouldn't have learned that editing a book is like pruning a rosebush -- when it's done right, it makes the blooms more beautiful.
As writers, we sometimes struggle to decide which words are flowers and which ones are weeds. Though I've gotten much better at that over two decades of writing, sometimes I miss a few weeds, mistaking them for wildflowers. This group tells me which ones need to be yanked and which ones should be bulldozed so that the ones that remain have room to grow and tell their story.
We don't always agree when it comes to weeding one another's word gardens, but that's part of the beauty of the group. Writing is, after all, an art, requiring a combination of personal experience and collective wisdom.
In the end, the writer sits alone before a screen, deciding what to keep and what to excise. But one Wednesday a month, this writer is lucky enough to sit in a room with a group of people who love writing as much as she does.
Not a bad way to spend a Wednesday evening.