This post is inspired by a conversation I had with David Fingerman about critique groups and learning to write.
It made me think about my first and only critique group and what an amateur I was when I started.
I was one of those people that believed that simply because I did exceptionally well in English class that I could be a writer.
God, was I wrong. It's not that simple.
When I joined my critique group, I was unpublished and probably the only one without any formal education in creative writing. I hadn't even attended a single seminar or convention.
It was a group of four and the rules were that we meet once a week with new chapters each time.
My first meeting went well. They were awesome and nice....except they were brutally honest to the point that my chapters were eclipsed with red ink. I expected honesty, and I they buried me.
That was okay. I asked for guidance, and I received it. I didn't want to be a good writer, I wanted to be GREAT. I tucked my ego away and absorbed what felt like punishment. I wanted to be taken seriously.
That meant absorbing the critique, taking notes and fixing my chapters according to direction. When we met every week, I had a new chapter to show as well as the previous one with all the corrections. That is how I learned how to write properly. That is how I earned the respect of my critique group.
I learned, many months later, that the other three members considered tossing me out after the first meeting. I was too raw, I was such an amateur. I had no idea what I was doing.
It's true, I didn't know what I was doing. But they decided I was teachable. I had 'Belly Fire' as they called it. They decided I really wanted it. And they went at me harder.
I'm so grateful for it. I'm not the best writer out there, but I strive for it every time. There's always something to learn, and you have no idea how I agonize over simple sentences. Sometimes even here on this blog.
I have friends who have started writing. They ask what I think, and I tell them I will be brutally honest. I tell them that if they want to publish, there are other things they'll have to do....like creating a social media platform. Like going to conventions, like taking honest criticisms. Things that are not fun and dull things involved with publishing.
I've given honest criticism when someone asks me to look at their work. I think they feel it was too much. I can't really speak for other writers, but I feel that if you've asked, and I've agreed, I have your best interests at heart. I'm not being mean. I'm not being passive-aggressive. I'm not jealous of you. I'm trying to help, because if my critique group hadn't helped me, I wouldn't have published my sixth novel.
Well, I'm self-published, so it's an odd flex, but I'm proud of my work and how far I've come. I don't suck, and I'll keep trying to get better.