Monday, July 11, 2011

Rooted in The Group

by Julia Buckley

Since 2000 I have been a member of a very supportive and talented writing group. The members have ebbed and flowed over the years, but the group still exists, and the members have gradually become published, one by one.

Next week the group will meet in my back yard. My sons put up a new mini-gazebo (the last was destroyed by a storm) and re-did the Italian lights so that we can stay out there until dark. My husband has promised to make pina coladas, and we have set up the comfortable padded chairs.

Yes, ambiance helps. But once we gather around the table, it will be about the work. Usually we share our latest communications with agents. One of our members just received an offer of representation after many rejections, so this will be something to celebrate! But we will also offer condolences to those who received the all-too-familiar refrains:

--"interesting, but not for me."
--"I'm going to have to pass on this one."
--"An agent really has to fall in love with a work in order to represent it, and that didn't happen here."

That last one, despite its attempt to let one down easy, is particularly hurtful, we all agree.

We'll talk about other things, as well: First, about Kindle and the changing landscape of publishing; perhaps about conferences attended and the quality of information received; perhaps also about opportunities with small presses.

And then, finally, we'll look at the manuscripts in front of us. Next week we're looking at two: a literary mystery (not mine) and a young adult novel. We'll analyze content and react to voice and diction and deconstruct plot.

Like any good critique group, we ALWAYS start with what is good. We aren't afraid, however, to dig into what needs work, and often the second group of comments is far longer than the first. We all know that we can't succeed unless we work and re-work and then work again. One of the former members of our group revised her novel for ten years before she got it published. Once, in a graduate fiction-writing class, she was told to start again with the first sentence and throw everything else away. She did it. We learn these lessons from the members of our group; in some cases they save us the pain of going through something ourselves, and in other cases, it softens the blow to know that they have gone through it, too.

Sometimes we ask ourselves why we do it at all. The failures outweigh the successes, and even the successes have led to extremely hard work and occasional heartbreaks. So why, why, have we been meeting since 2000, and why do we all write?

The answer is--because we want to. We even like it. And when we're inside the writing, it's not about the eventual success or failure, but about the joy of creation. Together, we are able to share something that not everyone has experienced, and so we continue to do it.

Feel free to stop by and join us. We'll be under the shaded tent, bent over stacks of white paper, slightly tipsy from our icy drinks, but focused, focused as ever, on the goal.


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Julia, how lucky you and your fellow writers are--a long-term critique group that works is a gift from the gods. Re agents, I don't think "didn't fall in love with it so can't represent it" is a manipulation, kind or otherwise, but a simple statement of fact. You really don't want the subtext of what your agent says to editors (or your publisher to booksellers and libraries) to be, "I'm not really enthusiastic about this one, so don't bother."

Sandra Parshall said...

You're so lucky to have a support group made up of long-time writing friends, Julia. I envy you!

Julia Buckley said...

Liz, you're so right, but something about its baldness just gets to us. We are sensitive writer-creatures. :)

Sandra, it is nice, and I look forward to the meetings. We had a giant storm this morning and somehow our frail gazebo remained standing, and I thought, "Whew! We can still have the writers' meeting in there." :)

Kathleen George said...

I wish I could pop in. The garden setting alone is nourishing.