Dear Crit Group,
I know you’re not the mushy type, but… well… I am, so let’s get this over with, shall we?
You’re so wonderful. Not to get too cheesy, but you honestly are one of the best things that’s happened to me in my adult life.
Five years ago today – a year and a half after I moved here – I saw a flyer for a new critique group about to have its first meeting to gauge interest. I went, along with maybe twenty other people trying to do this whole writing thing, and together we set up a tentative plan. After about three weekly meetings, we were down to less than ten regulars. Turns out that interest and commitment are two totally different things.
But we stayed, the half dozen or so of us who were determined to better our craft and get published. I still remember each one of those kindred spirits, although all but two have moved on. New folks would drift in one or two at a time over the months. Sometimes they would stick around; sometimes we only saw them once. Not long after starting up, the founder of that group handed it to me, asked me to keep it safe, and stepped away for personal reasons.
It hasn’t always been easy, but then, what worthwhile relationships are? There were times when attendance was so low I thought I’d have to close it, but still I held out hope that things would ‘pick back up’ when school started, let out, fill in the blank. There were times when the only people who showed up were me and one other person, but still we stayed and traded critiques. There were times when negative attitudes infected the atmosphere of the group and made me want to leave, but still I hung on and waited it out, knowing that most toxins work their way out of the system eventually.
Many of our practices and dealing were happy accidents. A few things, at times, felt like limitations. I didn’t structure the original group; I inherited it. So the name, the sponsor (our pretty extraordinary public library), and the skeletal guidelines were fixed in place. There were times when I got fed up — thought, “If I’m going to put in this much time and effort, I might as well start a new group and set it up my way,” but thankfully, the group members and I toughed out those rough patches. With patience, ideas, and support from various members over the years, we now have a system that is unique, wonderfully functional, and if not perfect, then at least well-suited to who and what we are as a whole. I have no doubt it will continue to grow and change with us in the years to come.
Today the group is healthier than ever with almost two dozen regulars and frequent new visitors. The atmosphere is generally clear and vibrant, full of talented minds dedicated to a common goal – though the paths may be multifaceted. We respect each other. We are honest, inquiring, kind, and demanding in the best way. I’ve forged several of my closest friendships from this group, and the group itself has become a tight-knit but welcoming group of friends that stretches far beyond two hours every Tuesday night.
I’ve learned more about the craft of writing through interacting face-to-face with these writers than I ever could have just reading craft books or schmoozing on Twitter. There’s something vital and necessary about human interaction, especially among creatives. I’ve learned self-editing through editing others. I’ve learned about my own strengths and weaknesses through their honesty about my work. I’ve constantly been supported but always pushed to better myself. There is no Can I trust them? for me. I know I can. What’s more, I’ve even learned how to better trust myself.
There is a give and take here that is organic, heartfelt, and beyond any hopes I could have had years ago when I decided that checking out this new critique group “couldn’t hurt.” Thank you all, members and visitors past and present, for helping me towards becoming the writer I want to be, and for allowing me some small part in your own journeys. It means more to me than you could know.
Happy five year anniversary.
(aka El Presidente)