Monday, February 20, 2012

The Need for Critique Groups by Marilyn Ebbs

I was twenty-something and had decided that writing needed to be more important than I was making it. I was taking some courses at Chemeketa, including Creative Writing. After class, one of my fellow classmates caught me and asked me if I would be interested in joining the critique group that she and several other writers were in.

I was honored.

All, but a total stranger tells she likes my writing and invites me to a critique group.

I accepted the offer. I had never let anyone read my writing before. A couple of family members who praised me, maybe, but not really. Not other writers. Not other people who would know whether I was wasting my time. But I was ready to take the first step in taking my own writing seriously. I went to the group. Everyone was older than I was by at least a decade, but they were nice and welcomed me. Then, I read my work, five pages, and waited for the comments.


"Great dialogue."

"I wish I could write dialogue like this."

At that time, it was exactly what I needed. Affirmation that I wasn’t spinning my wheels. I did have some measure of talent. And dialogue takes skill? Not everyone sits down at the writing desk and spews realistic dialogue? That was nice to know.

Of course, there was plenty to pick apart. My weakness? Details. The right details, enough details.

But this group was exactly what I needed to take my writing to the next level. And I needed fellow writers in my life. These women became my mentors, my friends.

Eventually, we drifted apart, went our separate ways. After my writing life had stagnated and I knew I needed something to help me start taking myself seriously again, Heather Cuthbertson and Willamette Writers came into my life. Heather and I started the Salem Chapter and a new critique group.

I took my five pages. Someone read my work. I didn’t get, “Wow.” I didn’t get, “I wish I could write great dialogue.” I got, “A lot of passive sentences.”

"I don't understand what's happening in this scene."

"Why should I care about these characters?"

Exactly what I needed to hear.

Sure, it bit. It hit a nerve. But, at this point, I already understood that I was a good writer. I didn’t need to be puffed up. I needed to know how to be a better writer. I needed to know why I was getting rejections like, “Great writing, but I just don’t have time to give it the attention it needs.”

So those writers, some younger, some older, became my mentors, my friends.

And, like with my first critique group, I became a better writer.

Marilyn Ebbs is the Executive Editor for Gold Man Review. To read more about Marilyn go to http://www.goldmanpublishing. com/nickroetto.html

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