Addressing Christmas cards yesterday served to remind me how little time is left until that joyous holiday rolls around. Watching grandkids decorate their Mom and Dad’s tree with the help of our little Aidan, who will be three in March, reminded me of how blessed I am, despite the hardships facing this country in the coming months. The best thing most of us can do is to continue to have a positive attitude, do all we can to help some of those not so blessed and pray for better times.
Besides my family, I am also thankful for all the writer friends I have made over the many years I’ve been in this business. And every year I make some new friends.
Our critique group, which has been in the business of mentoring new writers for 23 years and counting, continues to amaze me with its ability to support those struggling to learn their craft and get published. Each and every one then passes on what they have learned. The most important thing we are able to teach is to be generous with time and knowledge and help others as we have been helped.
The secret of a good critique group is to remember what we’re there for. To help, to teach, to give and most of all to keep the flame burning. To critique is not to criticize but to uplift with suggestions and praise, to help not hinder the advance of their talent. On the other side, we do writers no good when we tell them how wonderful they are without pointing out what might be a weakness in their writing.
Our group has no by-laws, no officers, no fees. We only insist that everyone follow the few basic rules of conduct set down by its leaders: the two of us who have survived for the full 23 years. Any writer serious about his or her craft may attend our meetings. When and if they feel comfortable reading, they bring five double-spaced pages of their best work, with copies to pass out. Sometimes we have three or four who wish to read, other times there are ten or more. We do the best we can to get them all in and still give honest critiques. It’s only when we have problems that we address them.
Over the years we’ve met in all kinds of places. Banks, offices, churches, private homes, a community organization, and now in a historical museum. Because we charge no fees, we have to find free meeting rooms. Since we meet one night a week, it’s more difficult to find a home, but we’ve always managed.
There are 31 members on our list, but usually only half or less attend each week. We do not advertise as we once did. That attracts some strange characters. Our information is at the local libraries if anyone asks, otherwise we seem to survive and keep fresh membership by word of mouth. There are always some people who say they want to be writers until they find out how much work it is; others move or decide a critique group is not for them, so we have some turnover.
If you don’t belong to a group and wish you did, why not start one? The library or other writer’s groups are good places to leave information about your group. If anyone would like more information on starting a critique group, let me know. I’ll be glad to help.