Sunday, February 27, 2011

think again

It was so sad. I was sitting with my writers group in the vacant café at our local Borders. The store was festooned with garish red and yellow banners that proclaimed, “Everything 20% Off!” Ordinarily this would have been reason to celebrate—good books, cheap. But Borders is agonal. The café is closed. The shelves looked as though they’ve been ransacked. And now we have to find another place to meet every month. That “other” chain bookseller wasn’t hospitable to us so we won’t be going back there.  Next, we’re planning to try the Borders that’s almost an hour away for me. Such is progress.

Still, there is nothing like a good writers group for support and encouragement. The folks I meet with invariably offer helpful suggestions…things that never would have occurred to me. Not that it’s comfortable for me to share my bumbling manuscript with people who are so much better at this than I am...and then to listen while they suggest that the scene I put my heart and soul into should simply be deleted or that the main character doesn’t resonate with them. It’s hard to hear that…and even harder to work out the revisions that follow. But, oh, how good it feels when one of them says that the suspense drew them in or the scene came alive for them. It’ll be worth the drive.

To reap the benefits of a critique group you have to be humble enough to embrace criticism. You have to be receptive and open-minded especially when the feedback is unfavorable. And you have to be resilient and committed in order to put what you learn on the page.

I was reminded of this last Sunday when I joined a new writers group that was meeting for the first time in downtown Harrisburg. If you read or write in Central Pennsylvania, check out The Midtown Scholar, at, one of the largest independent booksellers in the country, specializing in secondhand, academic, and rare books. This is where we gathered to share our work, in a comfy corner with a good cup of coffee.

I went to meet with a group of strangers, having no sense of where I would fit in. There were six of us and, oh my…these people are good! The problem is that well-written stories like theirs, lead the beginning writer to believe that this is easy…effortless…when nothing could be farther from the truth. If you have ever read a story and thought, “I could have written that!”... think again. For everyone except the rare genius, writing is a long, unpredictable, emotional rollercoaster of a ride. I’m lucky to have two groups of friends to ride along with me…and to steady me when the ride is over, wherever it takes us.

You should seek out friends, too. Even strangers if they share your passion. They will be happy to hear to your story or check out your artwork or listen to your song…if you will listen to theirs.

Who do you trust with your WIP?
“It is conceited and timid to be ashamed of one’s mistakes.
Of course they are mistakes.
Go on to the next one.”
--Brenda Ueland--
In my next post I’ll tell you about a new blog I’m working on.


  1. just because people critique, doesn't make them quality critics. Watch and do some research around a film called "exit through the gift shop." Proof anyone can sell crap, it take true talent to stand for something.

  2. My kids are my greatest critics - they are ruthlessly honest. I also let other kids read my MS, kids are great, they will always tell you the truth. And ultimately, I have to accept their expertise in reading MG novels.

    I also think it's extremely uncomfortable giving negative feedback, so if I get it, I think it comes with great love. :-)

  3. Hi Jan,
    My name is Brianna and I found your blog on the A-Z Challenge list and I'm very glad I did. We seem to have a lot in common.
    We also live in the same neck of the woods :) I live in Scotland, PA, which is a little town in Chambersburg, PA. This post on writing groups spoke to me. I'm so blessed to have a writer's group right in our church! It has benefited my writing in so many wonderful ways. I actually have a blog because we discussed it in our group. Two other members of my group also started blogs and are also taking part in the A-Z Challenge. If you go to my blog, click on the First Writes tab at the top to learn more about our group. I'm not trying to force you to go to my blog or to advertise our group, but this comment is already really long! Only check it out if you are interested!
    My Blog - Pocketful of Playdough