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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Flowering and Wilting of Writing Groups

Some of the best ladies in the world, my critique group.
We left our saga in Arizona, an epic place, to be sure. I was involved with that critique group in person the entire year and a half we were in Arizona and made it through about half of the first draft of Seven Noble Knights. The worst thing about leaving Arizona was the possibility that I would no longer be involved in the group. Luckily, these are some of the kindest, most generous people in the universe, and I've been allowed to Skype in every month since I left despite a key clause in our bylaws that specifies this as an in-person group.

Skype at its best can really give you a sense of personality. They added an in-person member when I departed, and I'm amazed to think I've never actually been in the same state with her, much less the same room. Based on that cyber-support, I finished Seven Noble Knights. What I most remember about living in Atlanta is writing the last chapter of Part I and the next several chapters getting away from me in length and complexity. Should I devote so much space to the migrating sheep? Which details of all the research I've done really develop the characters?

I tried to get into writers groups in Atlanta (the South is so wordy, it seems everyone writes!), but was daunted by two thoughts: Would I have to start over the critiquing of the entire novel? And I knew in my heart I was not in the right place and we would be leaving soon, so there was little point in investing as much effort as is necessary to find a group that really works.

The unnamed town where we lived in Illinois was a cultural wasteland that required a car to get anywhere, so the Arizona ladies were my only lifeline to the outside world. My most vivid memory of Illinois is scribbling the last few lines of Seven Noble Knights by hand because they wouldn't come while I stared at the screen. Oh, and completing it before the Mayan Apocalypse.

Then came North Carolina. You'll forgive me if I never felt settled in there, since we never lived anywhere but a hotel. I thought it might be the right place for us, and tried out a couple of critique groups, but while some of the writing was really enjoyable for me, barely one or two people ever seemed to understand what I was trying to do, whether it was historical or contemporary. Several months in, I saved myself the frustration by no longer attending. I had Skype to fall back on!

The reason I'm thinking about all this is that I'm now in a place I don't intend to leave within a year, so my best way to put down roots is to find a critique group. I have time to find one that works! I'm shopping around, but have already become a regular at one that meets every week.

Meanwhile, the writer the Arizona group added when I left has herself left, throwing all five of us into surprise and grief. She made her exit saying that the group wasn't giving her the regular discipline she needed. Not everyone has been able to submit writing on a regular basis, while she has been churning out the pages in an admirable fashion. I thought for a moment that this might mark the end of the Arizona group, and I was terribly sad, because it's become about much more than writing. It's a group of friends who all like to write and who support each other through many of the other things life throws at us.

Luckily, the remaining members agreed with that part. I'm still in transition, and deciding how to use all the wonderful local resources in order not to feel alone in this writing thing. But at least I haven't lost my best gals. Further critique groups may come and go, but Low Writers are forever.