Courage, Tenacity, and the Discovery of a Critique Group

In Fear, Trembling, and the Search for a Critique Group, I shared how I was foiled, foiled, then foiled again in finding a critique group – whether it was due to my own fear, lack of engagement with online groups, or finding a local Meetup group just as it completely fell apart.

The cool thing about Meetup is that you receive email notifications when other groups are formed in your areas of interest.

A few weeks after the first Meetup group disbanded, I received an invitation from a woman named Connie to join a nearby fiction writer’s group. I accepted immediately. Then there were a lot of rather frustrating back and forth messages about the date, time and location of the first meeting. At one point, Connie sent out a rather snarky, unexpected message to all who had joined the Meetup group:

“Remember this is NOT a group for beginning writers. I’m published and don’t want to spend time having to go over the basics of writing in our meetings. If you’re just starting out, it’s best to take a writing class at a local college or through adult school. That’s what I, and virtually all of my published friends, have done. I put together this MeetUp to bring experienced writers together to help and motivate each other.”

Ouch! Well, I’m not published, but I certainly wouldn’t call myself a remedial writer either. I started having second thoughts about joining the group and didn’t RSVP for almost a week. Then I received a personal, clipped email from Connie asking, basically, are you coming or not?

Oh geez, why the heck not.

It was Resistance once again rearing its ugly head. Must not give in to Resistance. (Ya’all have got to read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Excellent motivational tool for all of us writers!)

Connie asked members to bring printed copies of our book synopsis to the meeting. I only had a short summary paragraph and a chapter outline, so I scrambled to put something together. (Sidebar: Wow. I wish I had done that sooner. Amazing how much clarity you get when you see your story in that format. It exposes major gaps!)

The morning of the first meeting dawned, rainy and dreary. I found the place – a noisy fast food restaurant. Two men sat at a long table comprised of several smaller tables with a sign denoting the name of our group. One of the men was Connie’s husband. She’d gotten the flu in the middle of the night and her incredibly nice husband came in her place to get the group started.

Introductions ensued, and every ten minutes or so, a new member arrived until we were six.

Connie’s husband, who departed once he got our contact info.
Gary, in his 80s, a retired international creative director.
Dennis, 70s, a retired screenwriter.
Linda, 50s, a retired school administrator.
Me, 40s, graphic designer/manager.
Hailey, 30s, stay at home mom with two kids.

All very interesting people representing almost every decade, age-wise.

Because we were leaderless, things were a bit awkward. What were the rules? How do we do this thing? Only a couple of people had been in a writing group before, and none had led one.

We decided to divide up the remaining time between four of us. (Only four of us because… The worse possible nightmare for a writer came true for Dennis. His laptop had just died that week and he had lost everything on it: a novel and several short stories. Yes, he knows he should have backed everything up but he just hadn’t gotten around to it. Last I heard, the place he took it to is still trying to recover his files. I feel his pain.)

Each of us read our prologue or first chapter out loud – which was difficult in the noisy restaurant. Afterward, we asked questions, provided input, and offered suggestions.

It. Was. Awesome.

Sitting around a table with like-minded people who are serious about their writing and completely engaged in critiquing each others’ work was invigorating.

It was pure synergy. Per Wikipedia:

“Synergy may be defined as two or more things functioning together to produce a result not independently obtainable.”

What had I been so afraid of?

I have to admit, a few days after the meeting I got a little bummed. Briefly. It had been a big dose of reality. There are some huge issues with my story. There is so much work to be done to make it right.

But isn’t that the whole point? Absolutely. I’m loving it.

Another major hurdle arrived the week after our first meeting: Connie had to step down as the organizer due to health reasons. Fortunately, Linda picked up the reins and we are galloping away.

Our third meeting was yeserday, and it was just as beneficial as the first two.

If you haven’t joined a critique group, do it now! No matter what the hurdles are along the way…

Get thee behind me, Resistance…

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6 Comments

  1. I’m glad that you had a positive experience. My last critique group was not so positive and I needed to leave. I now join other writers for “write-ins” where we all get together to work on our projects, talk about writing in general and enjoy coffee. I find it to be much more effective for me.

    Reply
  2. Wendy, do you mind saying why it was a bad experience? I’m curious to hear more about critique group experiences, both good and bad. It doesn’t seem to be a common topic of blogs.

    “Write-ins” sound like a great idea for community and support from fellow writers. Nice.

    Do you choose people to read your stuff on an individual basis – so you can get a fresh pair of eyes on your work and receive their input? I did that last year with great results as well…

    Thanks for your comment!

    Reply
  3. *High Five!*

    I remember my first critique experience as soul crushing, but I now realize that I had way larger expectations for my writing. I don’t think anyone really understands how much they have to learn until someone points it out. Once you open yourself up to climbing that ladder, each rung becomes a very gratifying experience.

    I’ve come a long way, but I know I still have a lot to learn. Critiques are scary, but they really do open your eyes and help you see your work in a way you’ve never seen it before. 🙂

    Reply
    • *High Five* back! 🙂 Oh, I have so far to go – which can be both discouraging and exciting at the same time.

      BTW, the group is not only great to help improve my work, it’s also just plain fun to talk to fellow writers. Good stuff. 🙂

      Reply
  4. From what I’ve come to understand, I’ve been truly blessed. My first critique group has been amazing. I found it through a local writer’s guild. We exchange up to three chapters by email, then meet in person every three weeks to exchange critiques. There are six of us, two men and four women. I have learned so much and my writing has inproved by leaps and bounds thanks to the Word Herd.

    Reply

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