I belong to a writer's group that has been in existence, in one for or another for more than seventy years. It's true. It started, as a group of women, meeting in living rooms. They read and critiqued, all aloud.
In the eighties, when I joined, meetings were being held in a church. They were still reading to each other. I thought all the stories were amazing, and I couldn't understand how they all found things to critique. Everything each member read sounded so perfect. Except when it came to reading my work. As a teenager everything I wrote was, well.. Teen aged. I loved every word of my Warriors meets Diamond Dogs meets Time Square influenced short stories. Stories that no grown up should have to suffer through.
They did, though. Suffered through all of the awkward adolence-ness of my beginning writing, and made them into lessons for me. They taught me how to set a scene up, taught me how to describe things. (you can't have him open a refrigerator before you tell me it's there). They showed me the importance of verb choice. And, most importantly, they let me develop a critical ear.
It took time, but eventually, I began to hear what they heard. All those little burrs, and big ones, in the rough drafts we dealt with. I could pick them out of my work, as well as other's. Because the truth is, there's a rhythm to fiction, a rhythm that you can't see with the eye.
The ladies that welcomed me into the group are gone now. The group itself was in danger of completely dissolving. It was hard for me, because I've been spoiled. It doesn't do me any good to read to an empty room. No, now, after twenty-odd years, I need to hear my words up against an audience. I need to feel the moment I lose them before I can fix it.
Then one day, another member of the group called me. She and I are the last of the old breed, really, the only ones that remember the "originals", or at least the ladies that were there when I started. She said she was writing, and that she wanted to get together again. I was eager to agree. I didn't know how much I missed it until she said, "I miss hearing the stories."
Me too. Now we meet at Baker College. We are small, but steady. We are a handful of diehards, and some new members. I'm excited at the prospect of new stories, and new rhythms.