In the Gospel of John, we read the Jews had a problem with the inscription that Pilate had nailed on the cross above Jesus’ head. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” They said to Pilate, “Write not The King of the Jews; but that he said I am the King of the Jews.’” (John 19:21-22 KJV). Pilate responded, “What I have written, I have written.”
What writer would not love to say that to his or her critics? Yet it is that very criticism (“critique” is a kinder term) that helps improve my writing. Frankly, learning to write well “takes a village” — reading books by successful writers about writing, taking seminars and classes, and best of all, meeting with fellow writers.
I belong to a wonderful writers group that has been meeting for the last eleven years. What an eclectic bunch! (One member who shall be nameless removed the exclamation point after the word “bunch” after reading this. He’s right, of course, but just this once I’m leaving it in.) Tippi is a playwright, memoir writer, and columnist for cat breeders. Another fellow writes speculative fiction populated with strange creatures, magic curses, and the occasional werewolf. John is the most prolific with several books in a science fiction series completed and more to come. Liz teaches chemistry by day and writes engaging romance short stories by night. Sherry is a poet. Pat is plotting her mystery and yours truly blogs, writes articles, and just completed a novel.
I mention our areas of interest to make the point that, despite our different genres, good writing is good writing and each member brings priceless expertise to the table when we gather every two weeks. Prior to the meeting, we send whatever we want reviewed to each member by email. We add line numbers so we can easily identify the section being discussed. Members tell what they like about the submission and make suggestions for improvement. It is telling when several people find fault with the same line or lines. That is when I know they are correct and I’d better take their advice without question. We moan good-naturedly when someone begins his critique by announcing emphatically, “Line one!” knowing there is much more criticism to follow.
We have become friends over the years as we gently nudge each other to become the best writers we can be while never quenching the joy of entering that special zone where we surrender time to the written word.
C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien belonged to a writers’ group they named “the Inklings.” I find it reassuring that writers of that caliber turned to each other as we do in our group. I would love to have been a fly on the wall just to hear what they said about each other’s work. I got somewhat close to that when I read about their writing lives as members of the Inklings in the book Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings by Diana Pavlac Glyer. In fact, I think I’ll re-read it.
Most writers I have met are very friendly as they share insights, experiences, challenges and woes. Tell a perfect stranger who, it turns out, is also a writer, that you write also and in two minutes, you will be chatting like long lost friends. Since editorial rejection is part of every writer’s life, it is a blessing to have supportive friends who really “get it.” I read that about 45 editors passed on Gone with the Wind before it found publication.
Perhaps some writers prefer to go it alone, but I am grateful for my writing friends. I felt so much better when, after struggling for an hour over a short 300-word article that was due in a few days, I could email my friend and vent my frustration. “Now I know why Hemingway drank,” I wrote, knowing she would understand.
I also belong to Faith Writers, a wonderful online group of Christian writers that promotes excellence in this craft that has captured so many hearts. Visit https://wwwhttps://www.faithwriters.com/ to learn more about this terrific on-line community.
Do you belong to a writers group?
Do you prefer to write in solitude?
How can you tell if that story, article, chapter, or poem is as good as it can be?
How do you deal with rejection?
Are there good on-line writing communities you would recommend?