My writers’ group, organized through www.meetup.com, is in its seventh month of meeting. I’m proud that it continues to gain momentum. We have 32 members with about nine active participants. The group is diverse, too, which I’m proud to see. On average, three white males, one black man and four black women represent the composition of the group. Diverse groups give a better set of critiques because the comments come from many perspectives and mind-sets.
You’ve already heard me say that it’s great to be a part of a writers’ group–for a few reasons. A writers’ group:
- Gives writers an assembly of like-minded people who inspire each other
- Helps improve your writing from the constructive critiques
- Makes you accountable to the craft so you write more often, and
- Exposes and helps you gain appreciation for other voices and genres.
Tonight, it was my turn to get critiqued. The group already read my first two chapters so we discussed my third one. They gave me great feedback. But many of the comments weren’t what I expected or wanted to hear. In my defense, let me say that my characters are complex—just as people are complex. No one person is completely good (other than Jesus), and no one is completely bad (other than Satan). We all have varying degrees of goodness and evil running through our veins.
That said, the group said they enjoyed reading my chapter. Really liked it, even. But they cited things about a character that wasn’t believable to them. I’ll accept all those comments and re-write much of what they suggested to me. My book is a fictional slice of the African-American experience. But check this out: Although the black woman is part of my expected demographic to buy the book, one of the black women in my group had the most constructively critical comments from the lot. It was the older white man who identified with my character. He loved my storytelling, he said. He’s the one who “got me.”
The most crushing comment of the night was, “I could tell a woman wrote [this chapter].” The comment referred to a conversation in a bar between two of my male characters. I suppose I’ve never been privy to a conversation solely between two men. Men often temper the way they talk when women are around–. So I must have only ever heard watered down conversations, I suppose. Even still, I thought I was better at composing dialog. I thought I knew how to get into the heads of my characters, men or women, geriatric or child, to give the appropriate voice and tenor a conversation. Obviously, I need more work.
Tonight’s session was humbling. Sigh. The good part is, it’s better for my group to give me a brutally honest critique than to read a harsh critique on line, right!?