It seems that all of our lives someone is critiquing us. First it might be our mother or father because they are trying to teach us what appropriate behavior is. Next it might be our teacher who is charged with the responsibility of helping us learn the skills necessary to advance to the next grade. Finally having matriculated, landed a job, and if one wished a spouse, we might feel that we’ve arrived. And for some the need to sustain that feeling may ultimately impede them allowing their creativity to be revealed to the rest of us.
I should know, for having been informed that I was deficient in many areas, I wanted to hide. Yet it wasn’t until I was standing in line with the Dean of the Library of Biola University who was soon to retire that I asked him what he planned to do once he could order his daily activities as he’d like. Imagine my surprise when he uttered that one word that writers prize above all others, “Write.” A lengthily discussion ensued during which I discovered that most good or even great authors never seek a publisher do to fear of…
Now as a recovering somewhat left of nor-mal in almost everything including ego trips, I understood what he said, and knew full well all that was not said, yet implied! I could sum all that my head and heart were burdened with in one thought, Writer be ware! Yet since many overcome their worries through a recovery (critique) group, I thought it beneficial today to write about the various types I have either been in or heard about. But before I begin let me share that what I write is soul my take.
For the purpose of this article I will break groups by focus and mode of interaction.
The Feel Good Group: A great way to begin ones writing journey. This gathering exists to encourage each other. Its membership may be writing within so many different genres that it might be described as a Potpourri Critique Group. Upside: Many who fear harsh comments will feel good especially if you are the only one writing in your genre. Downside: The writers’ within the group may be unable or fearful of giving a creditable evaluation, least they receive one.
The Evaluation Group: A great place to learn the skill sets such as Point of View (POV), Character Development, and Plot. Lead by a well known writer/author or someone with know how, here one can learn the nuts and bolts of their craft. For many (like me) who did not major in any form of writing in college save term papers, this group can be a quick way to learn the necessary tools.
The I’ve Got Mine Group: This group is one I would not be drawn to because I believe that ones commitment to growing in the craft can be inhibited by grandstanders. By grandstanders, I mean those who are very well known for what they do, yet when asked will not assist but might instead impede others growth. For example when asked what type of critique group has merit they might chose to mention the type that works for them. However, one must note that just like different people do things differently which I must say very tongue-in-cheek is why they are different, some many need to visit many groups before they find the one that’s right for them.
I noticed that I have written over 500 words without mentioning what type of group I belong to and since you’ve dropped by to chat with me, not the hypothetical professor I might have sounded like, let me confess, “I’m a group hopper!” That’s right! After spending four years in a feel good group where few brought anything that they had written to read, and pages were never sent in advance, I matriculated to an evaluation group. If you’re wondering how many years I spent there, I’ll confess, NONE! I discovered that there were two evaluation groups that meet monthly, sent in my first chapter to one, and a few months later repeated the process with the other. And dear friend I found pay dirt! That’s right you heard me, “Pay dirt!” that noun of yesteryear fame which is called an Americanism perhaps because it stems from the 1855-60 gold rush era. But, I digress, the pay dirt I’m writing about can best be defined as mining someone else gray matter for profit. And the profit I speak of is acquiring an individual sense that what you have to say, and they way you express it has merit. Not merit because you’ve written the next big hit or better yet, a timeless classic, but merit because you have added to the wealth of ideas upon which individuals thrive and society and nations exit.
If you think about your writing in light of the last sentence, I believe that you will grasp that the higher calling you and I struggle with is worth the effort, sacrifice, and others potential lack or understanding or appreciation, which brings me to my last point: Whether they know it or not, whether writing for academia or pulp fiction, writers write their heart. Therefore lets end by looking at the Bronte sister: Charlotte's Jane Eyre was the first to know success, while Emily's Wuthering Heights, Anne's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and other works were later to be accepted as masterpieces of literature. One might ask, so I will, can any of us who slave to make each sentence a masterpiece live with “Later to be accepted as masterpieces of literature” accept this as a more than acceptable outcome? For sanities sake I believe we must. Otherwise we might find ourselves checking our novels numerical standing on Amazon several times a day while we wonder what the numbers mean, admonish ourselves, yet return once more. I know for I have been guilty of this fruitless activity. Better to work at our craft, publish or be published when the opportunity is available and let, as in the case of Bronte sister, posterity decide the outcome.
Until next time I wish all who write the blessing of ideas that inspire, and for those that read, may the next book you pick up give you everything you wished for but never thought existed.
Casa de Naomi: The House of Blessing now available on Kindle.