Back At It

My writers’ club hasn’t had a regular meeting since early November. We always cancel the fourth Wednesday;’s November meeting because of Thanksgiving. The only meeting in December is our Christmas carry-in, all fun and food, no work. Christmas eliminates the second meeting. So tomorrow will be the first time we’re back to reading and critiquing for a long time. I’m looking forward to it.

I can remember where each reader left their stories. Les is close to wrapping up the final chapters on his thriller set in a future Chicago. Turns out the dead girl the cops found floating in the water wasn’t murdered. She overdosed. But finding her body sure caused an uproar. Mary Lou left her Regency with the kids’ nanny sick after she caught what they had, and the brother who came home from the navy to raise his dead brother’s kids is pretty interested in her. I love Regency romances. Larry, our group’s ex-cop, read more from his memoir. The man’s lucky he’s still alive. Patrolling the streets of Milwaukee in those days was risky business.

Our group meets for two hours the second and fourth Wednesday of each month, and three readers volunteer to share pages with us. Each one gets fifteen minutes to read, and then we go around the table to offer critiques and give feedback. The author can’t respond until we’ve circled the entire table, and then it’s his or her turn to talk. We learned to do it like this the hard way, because if the reader got to respond to each critique, it took forever. We all believe positive feedback is more productive than trying to rip someone’s work to shreds. We state what we liked, what we thought worked, and what the author might be able to make better. Most of us print out pages to share while we read. A few don’t. We do our best either way. We have as few rules as possible.

After the meeting, most of us go to The Tower Bar and Grill for food and conversation. We like each other. Sometimes, we talk writing. Sometimes we share what’s going on in our lives. Either way, being with fellow writers is wonderful. We’re lucky. People who’ve left our group complain they can’t find another group like ours. But then, we’ve had a lot of practice. The group has existed for well over thirty years. It was going strong when I joined it.

Whether you have a group or not, I hope life has returned to a happy pace for you. And if you’re a writer, hope the words flow and the ideas never stop coming.

my writing group

I’ve belonged to a writers’ group–The Summit City Scribes–for more years than I like to think about.  We meet the second and fourth Wednesday of each month–often enough to keep us serious, not so often it becomes a chore.  We’re an eclectic brew of scribblers with no rules, no dues, no officers.  The only things expected of us is to show up as often as possible, to respect each writer and his/her work, and to offer the best critiques that we know how to.  We say what we like about the person’s writing and what we think he/she could have done better.  If we can think of a market that would work for the piece, we mention it.

We have a little of everything in our group.  Neil is a naturalist who writes newspaper columns.  When he reads, we know we’re going to learn about birds or migration paths, his experience at a state park, or a story about an adventure in his RV.  Paula writes mysteries, and we try to remember each clue and red herring as she spreads chapters over several months.  Ann writes romance, and we watch for hints that we know will bring the couple together before her last page.  We have fantasy writers, people working on children and YA novels, someone who writes nostalgia, and the occasional article or two.  But it all works.  We zero in on what makes for good writing.

The thing I love best is that each person comes at writing from such different angles.  Paula nails us on characters.  She looks for depth and multi-levels in our stories.  Mary Lou is a stickler on POV and using the senses to bring scenes alive.  She zeroes in on hooks at a chapter’s beginning and again at its end.  Linda cares about language and symbolism, about being real.  Ann won’t let lazy verbs slide.  She listens for word choice.  And together, everyone’s strengths become one powerful dynamic.

Our meeting goes from 12:30 to 2:30 in the afternoon, which makes it hard for people with day jobs to attend, but it’s what works for us.  A lot of us started attending the group when our kids were in school.  We could drop off our darlings or wave them onto their yellow bus, get a few things done, then scurry to our meeting.  And we’d be done and home before they walked through the door again, their book bags on their backs.

My kids are grown now, but I still like 12:30 to 2:30 for our meetings.  Evenings get busy.  Husbands come home.  Supper needs to be on the table.  There are other meetings to attend.  So twice a month, afternoons still prove a private time that I can call my own.  Many of us no longer need to race home.  I can dawdle.  So can some of the others, so we slip out to some nearby restaurant after the meeting to yak more.

I like both parts of my Scribes’ day.   The official part is a time to concentrate.  Three people volunteer to read at each meeting.  The first person reads for twenty minutes max, then we go around the table and critique the work.  Then the second person gets twenty minutes, etc.  Usually, we get to each person.  Sometimes, we don’t, but that means we got into some heated discussion about a story point or character’s motivation.  We don’t always agree, and that’s a good thing.  At the end of the day, it’s the writer’s story.  He/she has to decide what works for him/her.

I’ve listened to people who despise writers’ groups and say they’re a waste of time.   Or worse, that they do more harm than good.  Before I found Scribes, I might have agreed.  But Scribes has been invaluable to me.  Still is.  After all these years of writing–even after I’ve had things published–I crave my writer friends’ feedback.  They catch things I don’t see.  I’m too close to the characters, to the story.  I think I’ve made something clear that isn’t.  There’s a hole that a plot could fall into and never find its way out.  But Scribes is more to me than just the nuts of bolts of good writing.  It’s the company of writers.  When I’m wrestling with plot points or I need Atlas to hold the story up on broad shoulders, they reenergize me, recharge my battery.  Just being around them, talking shop, gets me enthused me again.

The second part of our meeting is just as valuable to me.  Sitting at a restaurant, rambling about our work or our lives, lets us become more than a group.  We become friends.  And writers make intelligent, interesting friends.  I consider myself lucky to hang with them.