A while ago, I ordered Becky Levine’s The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide. Because I ordered it to be delivered along with the more-than-popular LEGO Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary (on back order for all you hard-core LEGO and Star Wars fans), I didn’t receive the book until last week.
I’m not far into Becky Levine’s book yet, but I read just enough to carry me through my first meeting with a local writing group this afternoon.
Take care to make the meeting worth your time and money. Talk to people. Too often, at these events, writers give in to their nervousness, shyness, or just their uncertainty about their own writing.
…[R]emember: This is your writing. It’s important. I’m not advocating shoving yourself into the middle of someone else’s discussion or waving a red flag in the bathroom line, but put yourself out there (pgs. 14-15).
The woman who runs this particular local group emailed me the room information, said I was welcome to attend, and mentioned that they would all be bringing a sample of their work to share.
Yesterday, I worked a split shift at my paying job and was gone most of the day. My daughter cried both times I had to leave, so the decision to steal away for another two hours today wasn’t easy. Add, to that guilt, the anxiety about sitting in a room with strangers and reading a short story out loud (for the first time to someone other than myself), and I could have easily backed out. But, something in my gut told me – and Becky Levine’s words encouraged me – to go to this meeting.
When I got to the building, I came upon another woman looking for the meeting room. She smiled, told me her name, and immediately set me at ease. We made our way to the basement of the building and walked into the meeting together. She introduced me to her friends as a “fellow traveler.”
It was a small group, and I mostly just listened. When it came time to read our samples of work, I hesitated. A few of the members were aging adults, and the conversation, in the beginning, drifted from writing to assisted living. In the story I brought to read aloud, a young woman visits her grandmother in a nursing home. I thought maybe they wouldn’t like the story, that they would think I was rude to read that kind of story to this group. Worse yet, I worried they might not like my writing style.
Then, I remembered,
This is your writing.
Put yourself out there.
So, in the basement of a shopping mall, I sat around a table with six other writers and read my work. My face grew hot and my voice wavered. But, I pushed off that feeling of insecurity and panic and kept my eyes on the words.
After I finished, one person noted a place where I might change the wording to make it more clear. Everyone else sat quiet. Someone got up to leave. I tried to interpret the silence, then I decided, Oh well, at least I took the action.
I can’t control their response.
Nor, can I assume I know what it means.
And, isn’t that the way it is with every story a writer sends out into the world?
Before the meeting ended, the woman who introduced me earlier offered some kind words about my story. The man across the table suggested my published works will be filed in the group’s archives one day. I left the meeting with a few phone numbers and an invitation to come back.
I don’t know that I had much in common with the people there today, other than writing itself. But, when Becky Levine talks about finding a writing or critique group, she doesn’t mention we should search for people like ourselves: with kids or without, working day jobs or not, old or young. Instead, she emphasizes that we follow our gut instinct.
Find a group where we feel welcomed and supported – a group that will meet our writing needs.
My gut tells me that I found several good souls sitting at a table in a mall basement today, who passed kind words around the circle and who didn’t kick me out after my first reading. I can’t wait to go back.