Interstitial Moment:

While I was driving home from my writer’s group today, I thought–and not for the first time–how much I love the women in my group. They are all well-published children’s book writers (though some of us also write adult books). So I decided I needed to write about the phenomenon of such critique groups.

There are basically two kinds of such groups. First, there are those groups in which each author reads pieces aloud at the meeting and it is critiqued then and there. Secondly, the group in which manuscripts are handed over a week or two in advance (sometimes more) and everyone offers a written critique, sometimes accompanied by a spoken critique.

My group is the read-aloud type, which makes sense because most of what is read in our group are poems, picture books, short fiction, and essays. But we also have the occasional novel (both YA and adult) which pose certain different problems, mostly because they have to be read aloud over weeks and weeks and if one or another of us cannot make a meeting or two, the threads of the novel seem to go missing. And it is true–we realize it every time–that a book heard is different than a book read. The eye and the ear are different listeners.

But a critique group is more than just what is being read. It is also about the personalities, tastes, backgrounds, and critical acuity of the members. I know, for example, that some of my peers are amazing poets and I listen very carefully when they talk about the lyrical lines, parse single words, remark on scansion. Others have an innate sense of the arc of a novel, or the compression of a short story, or a fine ear for dialogue. We critique the critiquers, though usually inwardly.

And our group is also about networking. We have so many agents, so many publishers, so many editors in our histories, that we can share that sort of information. In our group we have had movies made of our work, theatrical plays, audio books, musicals, even gourd sculptures with a poem attached. (Okay, I’ll admit, that one was me.) We discuss recent new delivery systems (other than just books) and changes in publishing personnel, as well as the latest hirings and firings in the business, etc. And occasionally we discuss money.

And finally, it is about friendships. We are family. We care about spouses, children, grandchildren, aging parents. When my husband died, these women were my rock. When my grandchildren were born, they rejoiced with me. As I do with all of them and for all of them.

As for their critiques–they have saved me from overwriting, underwriting, and no writing. They have encouraged me and instilled courage in me when I needed it. Stopped me from making a fool of myself with editors. They can be ruthless with their criticisms and yet couch it in the terms of love. We always say something good before the critique.

People talk about how lonely a writer’s job is. But I have two answers for that: how can I be lonely with all those invisible friends talking to me in my head every day? And how can it be lonely when I have these seven women in my life?

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